Last year marked the highest number of off-road vehicle fatalities with 23 deaths; that number is the highest amount in the past 14 years, according to the OPP's collision and fatality data.
Insp. Joe Evans, interim detachment commander for Southern Georgian Bay OPP, provided the statistic to the Penetanguishene Police Services Board (PSB) during their quarterly meeting this week. It was one of many points of interest brought up by Evans during the Community Service Report, dated between January to March of 2021.
“This comes to us as MTO has reduced the amount of enforcement on the off-road vehicle (ORV) act, allowing them to be on highways. It just makes no sense,” said Evans in an embittered tone.
Of the 23 deaths, roughly one-third had alcohol and/or drug use as a contributing factor. Eight people died without wearing a helmet, and four riders were wearing a helmet but had their chin straps unfastened.
“We just had a death over the weekend,” remarked Evans, “where the helmet was undone and the person passed from head injuries.”
The regulations for on-road access were handed to municipal jurisdictions with the change being from an opt-in model to an opt-out model as of January 1, 2021, requiring many municipalities to revisit bylaws potentially needing revision.
Speaking with MidlandToday, Evans shared his feelings behind the Ministry's decision to allow ORV onto municipal roads. “We already have enough fatalities with the off-road vehicles when they’re off-road. Now to put them on the road, that’s a disservice to our communities. "What you’d get is -- every child or teenager that feels they can handle the equipment, or their parents that feel they’re capable of handling these equipment -- they get out on the road, mixing with vehicles that are much larger, much bigger, that are not used to looking for these vehicles... and our fatality rate is going to grow. Which is something that is not in our future, I hope."
Jillian Forbes, municipal law enforcement officer with Penetanguishene, presented a report later in the meeting addressing updates to the Highway Traffic Act with the use of ORV and all-terrain vehicles (ATV) on municipal roads.
In her report, Forbes stated that Penetanguishene will continue to prohibit ORV on the streets through municipal bylaw unless further accommodations are met. Neighbouring municipality Midland grants no permission for ORV under their bylaws, and late last year Tay township placed a hard prohibition on any ATV or ORV on municipal lands and roads.
Tiny township allows connections to Wasaga Beach and the Township of Springwater. Currently, Tiny is also under a 2021 pilot project allowing ORV and ATV on certain municipally-assumed roads, but Forbes was unable to acquire data regarding the trial at the time of her presentation to the Penetanguishene PSB.
“I took into consideration the impact on our community by allowing them onto our roadways,” Forbes explained, addressing ORV and ATV owners’ requests.
"Other considerations included providing a safe and legal operation on municipal roadways, as well as how OPP would become involved if an opt-in bylaw existed.“Can we enforce it if we are going to start to permit them?” Forbes asked rhetorically.
The report was tabled and carried by PSB with no questions asked.
The Penetanguishene Public Services Board holds quarterly meetings, with the next scheduled for September 13 at 8:45 a.m. Information on the PSB can be located on the town of Penetanguishene website.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca