Almost 20 Manitobans have died in ATV crashes during the last three summers, and this summer has proven to be particularly deadly.
And while the number of registered ATVs in the province has nearly tripled during the last decade, the number of riders with proper training is "next to nil." That has revived calls to make training mandatory, especially for teens or first-timers.
"We would love to see, and we've approached MPI and the province about this in the past, a mandatory training program," said Donald Eidse, president of the ATV Association of Manitoba.
Eidse estimates fewer than one per cent of all recreational riders have been through any kind of course, such as the one-day, hands-on class Safety Services Manitoba offers.
'Everything is preventable, it's just about people being properly educated'
Last summer, eight people died in all-terrain-vehicle accidents, RCMP report. So far this season, there have been four deaths, including a bizarre crash Saturday at the Rivers Reservoir that killed two people. There, a 58-year-old Rivers woman lost control of her ATV and careened down a steep embankment, striking a fisherman, whose body was later found in the water.
RCMP officers respond to more than 60 ATV crashes every June to October. Already this year, just six weeks into their statistical season, there have been 31 crashes. If this summer's trend persists through the fall, the number of crashes could be nearly double the average, and the number of deaths could be much higher as well.
The STARS air ambulance has been called to the scene of five ATV crashes so far this calendar year, including two on the same Sunday in May.
Terris Baran, one of Safety Services Manitoba's ATV instructors, said riders often overestimate their skills or what an ATV can do. They take corners too fast or drive on hills that are too steep and don't know how to avoid flipping or how to back down once they're halfway up.
Even more common, riders injured in ATV crashes are intoxicated or fail to follow the law by wearing a helmet.
"Everything is preventable, it's just about people being properly educated," said Baran, who favours some level of mandatory training.
Only a tiny proportion of recreational riders takes the courses offered through Safety Services Manitoba. Instead, most are employees of companies such as Manitoba Hydro, whose workers use ATVs in the field and are sent for training as part of corporate safety rules.
Eidse's organization, five years old and volunteer-run, is trying to set up its own menu of training courses, but it's been slow going.
To be part of a nationally recognized program, local trainers need to be taught to lead the courses. The ATV Association of Manitoba is having trouble recruiting trainers, in part because teacher training is expensive and it's not clear ATV riders are beating down the door for classes.
"It's a bit of a Catch-22," said Eidse.
Quebec and New Brunswick have mandatory training laws. Manitoba could oblige young or first-time riders to take a course and exempt more experienced drivers, which is how Nova Scotia's rules work. Eidse said his association is open to any discussion with the province over how mandatory training would work and how it might be phased in.
"We're flexible," said Eidse. "But we have to start somewhere."
But the province has so far resisted the idea of mandatory training. When the ATV association first started calling publicly for better training five years ago, then-conservation minister Stan Struthers said the ATV community ought to police itself.
Asked Wednesday if its position remains the same, the province offered a non-answer.
"Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation is always reviewing/monitoring legislation and regulation," wrote a spokesman in an email.
Though it offers basic insurance to ATVs, MPI cannot make driver training obligatory without provincial legislation.
"As a road-safety leader, MPI encourages people to practise safe riding and to educate themselves on whatever vehicle they plan to ride whether it's an ATV or a snowmobile or a mini-bike," said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.
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