February 25, 2016

ATV Riding by the Book

Photo: Mathieu Langevin-Paquet

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By Mathieu Langevin-Paquet

For most people, the laws governing the use of ATVs seem obvious, but there are several peculiarities depending on their use. There are changes in the laws since last year and it is important to keep abreast of these changes to avoid unnecessary problems. In addition, laws relating to the use of an ATV as means of transport by hunters may surprise more than one. It is important to find out what they mean, to be ready for the next season.
The hunting season is also a time-conducive to the use of the ATV as a means of transport, but also as a working tool to get big game out of the forest. In order to join the useful with the pleasant, one must first know about the bulk of laws affecting this activity. One should know that in Quebec, it is necessary to be at least 18 years old to drive an ATV. Under 18, a skill card is necessary. Anyone can get a skill card from the age of 16, following training in an ATV Club. Following this short training, this youth will be issued a certificate of competence and will be able to drive an ATV legally.

When driving an ATV, all users must have a driver's license, proof of insurance, valid registration and rights to access the marked trails if you plan to use them (fine of $300 and costs for offenders). Users under 18 years of age must add a proof of identity with photograph and certificate of competence.

The use of a helmet is mandatory at all times, while riding on federated trails as well as in the forest. Whether it is beautiful and warm, or while riding for recreation  as well as hunting, a helmet must absolutely be worn. One must be even wearing a helmet while unloading his ATV from its trailer, if of course, it must be straddled to do so. As mentioned by the agent of the SQ we met for this article, one should not forget that the first goal of the helmet is to protect its user from blows and injuries. Let us remember that shocks to the head often cause head injuries and loss of consciousness or coma, whose depth and duration influence the severity of the after-effects resulting from brain damage. As a motivation, if you fail to wear a helmet,  you will be issued a fine of $150 plus administration fees.

A problem experienced by many users of ATVs is the use and sharing of roads and federated trails. There are many false beliefs to the effect that ATVS have the right to move freely along the roads. You will be surprised to know that it is forbidden to ride along the roads, but possible to cross them in a perpendicular manner so that it is safe for all. In rural areas, patrollers tolerate ATVs travelling towards a gasoline station, a rest area or a restaurant near the trails to facilitate life for everyone and in order to avoid harming businesses. In addition, many people use federated trails without being a member. Whether it be for short use or to cross a federated trail, membership is mandatory, under penalty of a fine.

As a lover of vintage ATV riding, you will perhaps be tempted to create your own ATV. First, be aware that this can be a very attractive project and inexpensive if you are the least bit good at mechanical tasks. However, your project will probably remain in the show window, since it is impossible to have a homebuilt off-road vehicle recognized by the SAAQ (Société d’Assurance Automobile du Québec). If nevertheless you create your own crafted ATV and you are intercepted by a patroller, don't forget that your ATV will be stored, but not under seizure, as an ATV can not be an object of seizure. Because a homemade ATV is not duly plated, the patroller will be obliged to give you a fine for noncompliance to the obligation of carrying the required papers, as mentioned above.

Any ATV built by a recognized company, but modified (exhaust pipe…) must pass an inspection by the SAAQ to be recognized as legal, under penalty of seeing the ATV in storage and be fined in the same way as any other motor vehicle.

If you are tempted to add a passenger seat on your ATV, it must be from a manufacturing company and not homemade. Firstly for the safety of users, but also to avoid breakage of your vehicle. To be safe, a passenger seat must be equipped with footrests and hand rests.

Hunters are often obliged to use an ATV to have access to roads not opened to ordinary vehicles, in order to reach their hunting area, but should be aware that some laws are addressed directly to them. Firstly, during the hunting season, wearing a coloured bib is compulsory both for the hunter and the outdoor enthusiasts. Furthermore, the transport of weapons of hunting (rifle, bow, crossbow...) is allowed provided that they are not loaded, stored in cases or chests, with magazines placed safely in another place. In the same way, it goes without saying that it is forbidden to use a weapon sitting on the ATV, whether running or not. In the hunting season, carrying visible firearms is legal during the time of hunting only and during hours allowed, from sunrise until dusk. Outside these periods, weapons must be stored in their cases. If you were tempted to use a weapon outside the hunting period for any reason and you were surprised by a Game Warden or any other patroller, criminal charges could be filed against you.

There is ZERO tolerance, concerning alcohol allowed in the blood while driving. It is forbidden to drive an ATV while intoxicated, as serious consequences (loss of driving licence, storage of the ATV and fine) could ensue. It is also forbidden to ride around with a beer in hand. For hunter friends who might be tempted to celebrate their big game trophy, think twice, especially since patrollers are more present during the hunting period.

In summary, old-fashioned Good Common Sense should be used while riding our ATVs. In the same way as our patrol and our game wardens who are dedicated to protect us and our environment should do. Beyond law enforcement, patrol officers are human-beings who can understand certain situations depending on the place and the situation, but do not forget that the laws exist to be respected and not ignored.


Source of legal information: SQ Domaine du Roy (Roberval), Société d'Assurance Automobile du Québec

ATV, clothing and accessories supplied by: Centre du Sport Lac-St-Jean, Pro-Nature (St-Félicien)