OHV Awareness Articles

Dexter’s Deadly ATV Wreckage

Contributed | Posted: July 27, 2019, 4 a.m. | Updated: July 27, 2019, 7:50 a.m. | 5 Min Read


Backwoods free-for-all predictable after NDP ditched watchdog


Re: your July 20 Letter of the Week, “Wild Western Shore: Rowdy ATVers run roughshod over residents, rules.

It was depressingly familiar to read about problems homeowners are experiencing in the Chester area as a result of illegal/inappropriate behaviour by some ATV drivers.

I say familiar because all of these problems and more were thoroughly reviewed and dealt with over a decade ago by the Voluntary Planning Off-Highway Vehicle Task Force (2003-04).

It conducted public consultations across the province and issued two detailed reports (https://novascotia.ca/natr/ohv/pdf/OHV_Final_Report.pdf) containing 39 recommendations to address the myriad problems arising from unrestricted ATV use, which it accurately characterized as “Out of Control.”

The members looked at it all: safety, age limits, social conflict, environmental damage and landowner rights. The government of the day, under then premier John Hamm and his successor, Rodney MacDonald, accepted the recommendations of the OHV Task Force, passed the Off-Highway Vehicles Act, released a detailed action plan (https://ecologyaction.ca/files/images-documents/file/Wilderness/OHV_Action_Plan.pdf), and struck a multi-stakeholder off-highway vehicle ministerial advisory committee (OHV MAC) to advise government on implementation of the action plan and related issues.

The OHV MAC was ably chaired by Laurie Cranton of Margaree, himself an ATV and snowmobile rider. It included representation from ATV, snowmobile and dirt bike organizations, but also from doctors, safety experts, private landowners, municipalities, etc.

I was the lone environmental rep on the committee and I can tell you that we took our job seriously, worked well together and provided good oversight and advice to government.

Critically important, the government also created a 12-person off-highway vehicle enforcement unit dedicated to policing the trails and back country and enforcing new and existing laws and regulations. With dedicated enforcement and regular trail patrols, the situation began to improve. There were fewer accidents, less drinking and driving, less environmental damage and less social conflict. A much needed culture change was underway.

But then came a change in government — and all the air was let out of the tires, so to speak. Darrell Dexter’s NDP government, despite pushing for better regulations for ATVs when in opposition, had no interest in the issue and dropped it like a hot potato.

In short order, the government disbanded the OHV MAC advisory group, quietly absorbed the dedicated OHV enforcement unit into general duties so it no longer exists and shut down Voluntary Planning, ending over a half century of excellent work engaging Nova Scotians on important policy issues of the day.

It was clear the government did not want independent expert advice on this or any other topic. As then deputy premier Frank Corbett said in a rare moment of political candour: “If it’s not in line with government thinking, why have it?” (Chronicle Herald, May 11, 2011) Why, indeed?

“Drinking and driving in the backwoods is common again. Deaths and severe injuries are back up — to the tune of about one dead or critically injured rider a month.”

The result is that the ATV situation has largely returned to the Wild West atmosphere that existed prior to the task force. Conflict in neighbourhoods and between riders and private landowners are occurring in rural and suburban communities across the province. Environmental damage is ongoing, widespread and virtually unpoliced.

For example, it’s illegal to drive an ATV through a watercourse or in a wetland. There are big fines for that. But with no enforcement, it happens all the time. Most riders probably don’t even know it’s illegal because all the rider education initiatives were dropped when the OHV MAC was told to go home.

Drinking and driving in the backwoods is common again. Deaths and severe injuries are back up — to the tune of about one dead or critically injured rider a month. Children in rural communities are regularly seen driving ATVs on the roads (illegal), often underage (the minimum is 13) and without helmets or proper training (also illegal). Two years ago, a five-year-old boy was killed when he rolled his kiddie-sized ATV near his home in Pictou County.

As the volunteer members of the OHV MAC were being shown the door by the Dexter government, we delivered a final report to the minister (https://ecologyaction.ca/sites/default/files/images-documents/OHV MAC – Final Report To Minister.pdf) concluding that the work was far from over and that disbanding the advisory committee and the 12-person OHV enforcement unit were big mistakes:

“Despite some success, the MAC concludes its mandate with remaining concerns that without the integrated OHV enforcement unit and the continued attention of the MAC with respect to OHV issues, the use of OHVs within the province will see many of the previous problems return.”

And so it has come to pass.

To be clear, there are many good and decent, law-abiding ATV riders who want to do the right thing and try hard to bring others along. Groups like the All Terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia have come a long way in promoting safety and responsible riding within their club network.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of riders don’t belong to any ATV clubs and don’t want to, so they don’t get the peer education that comes with membership. Most just buy an ATV and use it to go wherever they want, whenever they want, and however they want — “Shall we stay on this trail or should we ride through that wetland beside it?” Hmmm…

And how they howl if anyone tries to restrict them from doing so.

Bullying and intimidation comes next for anyone who stands in the way of their (presumed) God-given right to ride their machines wherever they want.

I note that your letter writer had to ask to have his or her name withheld from publication for fear of retribution. It’s all so depressingly familiar. And it could’ve been so much better. We were well on our way and now we’re back where we started — out of control.

What can be done?

Well, a new government could revive the OHV MAC, but I’m not holding my breath. At the very least, the current government should reinstate the dedicated OHV enforcement unit to uphold existing laws and regulations. That would go a long way toward reducing deaths, damage and conflict in Nova Scotia.

As Laurie Cranton, the former chair of the OHV MAC, said in a CBC report last November: “Of all the recommendations, it was enforcement — that an enforcement group be set up specifically to manage off-highway vehicles. That was No. 1, and it was No. 1 for a reason.”

Raymond Plourde is wilderness co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre.

Raymond Plourde, Saltwire, & The Chronicle Herald. (2019, July 27). Dexter’s deadly ATV wreckage. Saltwire. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://www.saltwire.com/nova-scotia/opinion/opinion-ndp-to-blame-for-atv-wreckage-after-ditching-watchdog-336739/

ATVs Not Safe for Children

Posted: April 26, 2022, 10:05 P.M. | Updated: April 27, 2022, 6:25 A.M. | 7 Min Read

The scene of a fatal ATV crash is seen in Shubenacadie in 2005. There has been a significant increase in intensive care admissions at the IWK Health Centre for ATV-related injuries.

There are few, if any, good outcomes when a child is seriously injured in an ATV accident.

That’s particularly the case when the injuries involve the brain and spinal cord, said Dr. Simon Walling, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

“If somebody breaks their neck and damages their spinal cord, and if they break the bones and the ligaments and the spinal cord is injured, even with today’s technology the likelihood of that person being able to walk independently, control their bowel and bladder function independently, would be a miracle, it would be like winning the lottery prize,” Walling said in an interview Tuesday.

The same applies to brain injuries.

“The brain sits in a closed box, the skull,” said Walling, who has been a surgeon for over 25 years and teaches at Dalhousie University medical school.

“If there’s bleeding in there and it’s unchecked and if it’s not dealt with, pressure and swelling is going to lead to death. We are usually able to decompress this and stop the swelling but we cannot repair the damaged brain.”

Neurosurgeon Dr. Simon Walling holds a 3D printout of a patient’s brain in 2018. Walling said brain damage related to trauma such as ATV crashes can be lift-altering. – John


Brain damage can significantly affect the child’s neurological abilities and mobility, Walling said.

“Traumatic brian injury is potentially a completely life-altering event. … The absolute best prevention is not for the event to happen. That is the only way to change the outcome.”

The event in this conversation is an ATV accident. These crashes have sent about seven young people to the IWK’s pediatric intensive care unit since 2020.

That’s a big increase compared to previous years, said Dr. Kristina Krmpotic, who specializes in critical injuries in young people at the IWK.

Krmpotic and Walling were among 15 pediatric specialists from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick who recently signed an open letter calling for action on ATV safety for young people.

“We’re very very concerned about a significant increase in the number of ATV-related injuries that have been arriving in the Maritimes over the past probably 18 months, since the fall of 2020,” Krmpotic said in an interview Tuesday.

“It’s been a significant increase in the number of admissions to the pediatric intensive care unit at the IWK in children with incredibly severe injury, injuries they will either not recover from or injuries that they die from.”

Over the past 10 years, the PICU would see an average of one ATV accident victim annually. But there have been seven PICU admissions since the fall of 2020 including five in 2021. (No stats were available for 2022).

The ages of PICU patients have ranged from toddlers who were ATV passengers to youths in their mid-teens.

About half of those admissions have resulted in deaths, Krmpotic said.

ATVs can be very top-heavy, especially four-wheelers, it’s easy to roll them over especially if you’re off-roading in rough terrain. – RCMP Const. Guillaume Tremblay


In an interview Tuesday, RCMP Const. Guillaume Tremblay said that most ATV crashes have contributing factors such as speed, impaired driving or the lack of safety equipment such as helmets, “which are so vital to save your life in the event of a crash.”

There were 29 collisions in 2021 reported to Nova Scotia RCMP involving off-highway vehicles that resulted in serious injuries or deaths. Information wasn’t immediately available for the previous year or for 2022.

Last May CBC data journalists reported that at least 42 Atlantic Canadians died in 2020 in ATV and snowmobile crashes, the most since 2012.

In a tweet Tuesday, Nova Scotia RCMP urged riders to make safety a priority after two weekend crashes in HRM that resulted in serious injuries.

“Always ride sober, always wear your safety equipment, that’s a good jacket, gloves, helmet especially,” Tremblay said. “Have a plan in place. Carry a first-aid kit with you, maybe an overnight bag, always tell someone where you’re going. It’s vital. Even if you just break down, and you have to spend the night out there in the woods, it does get cold at night in Nova Scotia and you don’t want to end up with hypothermia.”

And slow down, he said. “ATVs can be very top-heavy, especially four-wheelers, it’s easy to roll them over especially if you’re off-roading in rough terrain.”

Trembly didn’t have statistics on hand on whether more young people have been involved in recent crashes but “anytime there’s a collision it does have lasting effects on families and first-responders and communities that go to these collisions and crashes.”

There were 29 collisions in 2021 reported to Nova Scotia RCMP involving off-highway vehicles that resulted in serious injuries or deaths.


Barry Barnet, executive director of the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia, said his group also urges riders to make safety a priority.

“We promote safe, responsible use of ATVs and you know we continue to push that message to all our members and to others,” he said in a recent interview. “We provide safety training programs that members can take advantage of, and others, and some do. We’ve invested our members’ money in a fleet of youth ATVs to help with the problem.”

Barnet said the pediatricians’ letter caught him by surprise because he wasn’t aware there was an increase in serious injuries, particularly involving youth. He said it’s difficult to get official information from government and he’s heard nothing anecdotally or through the media to indicate a spike in children’s injuries.

But he said any rise in crashes could be related to a significant increase in off-roading and other outdoor activities during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in ATV sales at dealerships, in fact to the point where people are on wait lists to buy these things,” he said, adding that ATVANS membership has grown from 2,200 to 6,300 over the past decade.


A joint statement in response to the pediatricians’ concerns from the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Works Department said there is a strong ATV culture in Nova Scotia. “We want all Nova Scotians – young and old – who choose to ride ATVs to be safe and responsible,” said the statement, which added training is required for riders aged 15 and under with limits on where and when they can ride.

A person as young as six can operate an ATV as long as the engine is not more than 70 CCs and they’re supervised by an adult. Riders between 12 and 16 can ride a machine as large as 90 CCs.

“Training young people on how to safely operate an OHV (off-highway vehicle) is a priority,” the government statement said.

This ensures that young people will be trained by a certified professional, on a closed course, on the appropriately sized machine.

“Government departments that are involved in the regulation of ATVs will certainly take a look at the information to determine whether anything further needs to be addressed to enhance safety.”


Pediatricians have said for years only adults should be allowed to ride ATVs. Krmpotic said even smaller ATVs are “very heavy.”

In their letter, the pediatricians acknowledged many Maritime families enjoy ATVs and that children want to participate.

“We also know that children cannot adequately control motorized vehicles, and that they are vulnerable as passengers. ATV use by children and teens is not safe.

“We want parents to know that ATV injuries and deaths are preventable. We ask that parents be aware of their children’s off-highway vehicles access and be aware of the risks associated with these machines.”

John Mcphee. “Nova Scotia Pediatricians Call for Change Amid Spike in Children’s ATV Injuries, Deaths | SALTWIRE”. Saltwire.Com, 2022, https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/nova-scotia-pediatricians-call-for-change-amid-spike-in-childrens-atv-injuries-deaths-100722552/.

Weekly News

The BEDFORD-SACKVILLE | Posted: Friday, April 29, 2005

Not On My Land!

ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE: Private landowner David Barrett has allowed people to use his property for natural pursuits for years – that access could be jeopardized by inconsiderate ATV drivers.

OHV Damage Could End Access

David Barrett points to muddy ruts created by OHVs as they travel through his family’s property.
Barrett says irresponsible users have to accept responsibility for the damage they’ve caused.

By Yvette d’Entremont
The Weekly News

David F. Barrett is concerned about a recent increase in the “reckless” use of off-road vehicles that has caused thousands of dollars in damage to his family’s property.

For almost three decades, the Barrett family have opened their acres of woodlands to local residents who agree to abide by the Barrett Lumber Company’s Forest Stewardship Agreement. That agreement doesn’t give permission to operate OHVs on the company’s land, but does allow residents to pursue numerous recreational activities.

Those who sign the agreement are given keys to unlock more than 20 gates throughout the woodlands surrounding parts of Beaver Bank, Windsor Junction, Grand Lake, and elsewhere.

The Family Stewardship Agreement requires participants to make a $15 donation to a charity of their choice and to pay $5 to cover expenses for items like keys, mail-outs and maps. Hundreds of dollars have been raised for local charities as a result.

During the muddy season, March to May, access to their land is restricted, but in recent weeks, off road vehicles have torn up the ground.

Two weeks ago, a local man walking on Barrett’s land encountered about 10 OHVs tearing through the woods from the Berry Hill and Springfield Lake areas. He approached Barrett about it because he didn’t want the OHV operators in Beaver Bank to wear the blame.

“There is nothing I like better than to see responsible people enjoying our property,” wrote Barrett in a Feb. 21 letter. “There is nothing that upsets me more than irresponsible use of our property.”

“Always remember, it’s the logs, pulpwood, firewood, fuelwood chips, etc. from our timberland that provides the 70 plus jobs at our plant in Beaver Bank, besides the many other jobs for logging contractors, truckers, etc.”

Boy scouts, Girl Guides and the Cadet movement have all benefited from camping access to Barrett lands. Since 1978, more than 1,000 families have received permission to use the timberlands for various activities like cross country skiing, tobogganing, fishing, boating, picnicking, family camping, jogging, hiking, dog walking and horse back riding.

“That ground will never be the same again,” said Barrett about the recent damage. “It’s a loss for people who walk. It’s a serious thing. They go down through water courses and everything else.”

Besides driving through the muddy woodlands and across brooks and streams, Barrett said the perpetrators leave litter and sometimes cut down trees to construct makeshift bridges.

Since 2002, Barrett has continued to meet regularly with OHV operators in Beaver Bank. Those meetings led him to allow restricted use to responsible operators. At meetings earlier this year, local riders thanked Barrett for allowing them to use the land, and asked how they could help him maintain it.

“The bottom line I’m stressing at off-road vehicle meetings is unless responsible OHV enthusiasts use peer pressure on the others. I may have to start prosecuting those who don’t abide by the rules,” Barrett said. “It’s very upsetting when people seem to have no regard for other people’s property and there has to be a stop to it.”


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