Snowmobiling is a huge part of Newfoundland’s identity, so why aren’t helmets?
Helmets are still not mandatory for snowmobile riders in Newfoundland and Labrador – even though on average four people per year in the province are killed in snowmobile accidents.
Statistics Canada reports there were 30 snowmobile-related fatalities in Newfoundland from 2013 to 2019 – an average of about four deaths per year.
Section 10 of the Motorized Snow Vehicles and All-Terrain Vehicles Act states, “A person shall not operate or ride as a passenger on a vehicle unless wearing a helmet that complies with the Licensing and Equipment Regulations and that helmet is properly fastened.”
But Section 3 states “Subsections 8(2) and (3) and sections 9 and 10 do not apply to vehicles designed to travel on snow nor to vehicles into which the driver must enter except where specifically set out in sections 16 and 17.”
The legal age for ATV operation in Newfoundland is 16 without the supervision of an adult, and a helmet is required by law.
For snowmobile operation, however, the legal age is only 13 without the supervision of an adult.
And despite the minimum age required to operate a snowmobile being three years younger, there’s no legal requirement to wear a helmet on one.
“But at the end of the day, this is a government introduced legislation.” – Const. James Cadigan
Const. James Cadigan of the RNC says that despite any dangers, the police can only uphold the law as stated in the legislation.
“Well, these types of laws are introduced through our government and put into place and are identified through discussions with those organizations that present concerns,” said Cadigan. “But at the end of the day, this is a government introduced legislation.”
Regardless of the law, however, he says that helmets are still important.
“From a health and safety perspective, it’s a recommendation that any person who is on or operating any off-road vehicle – including a snowmobile – should wear a helmet,” Cadigan said. “And we applaud those who practise safe and responsible riding.”
He also recommends that anybody who might have issues with the current helmet laws get in contact with an official.
“This is in place at this time. This is an active piece of legislation,” said Cadigan. “If you have any questions or concerns, you can certainly reach out to your local police detachment or you can speak to your government official to help outline any concerns that you might have.”
Sarah Stoodley, the minister of Digital Government and Service NL, which is responsible for the ATV and snowmobile safety guidelines, refused interview requests.
“There’s trees. There’s rocks. There’s more out there than just snow.” – Ethan Anstey
Ethan Anstey is big into snowmobiling. Having saved up enough from his summer job and other events such as birthdays and holidays, he was able to purchase his own machine this winter.
Being 14, Anstey is a whole year older than the legal age required to operate a snowmobile without any supervision.
He could even go out without a helmet and still be obeying the law.
Just because he’d be well within his legal rights, however, doesn’t mean he agrees with it.
“I feel that it (a helmet) should be mandatory,” said Anstey. “If you’re gonna be out on something so dangerous, you should take the time to protect yourself. And I don’t know why somebody wouldn’t.”
He says that even if you’re the most confident rider in the world, it’s still incredibly dangerous.
“It’s not always you that’s gonna be at fault. It could somebody else that could get in an accident and hit you,” he said. “And it might be dangerous that you’re not wearing your helmet.”
If he’s operating a snowmobile, Anstey says there’s no scenario in which he wouldn’t be wearing his helmet.
“The whole idea of ‘It’s only down the street,’ or ‘It’s only snow’ – we’re not talking about you hitting the snow. There’s trees. There’s rocks. There’s more out there than just snow,” he said.
Anstey believes there’s an element of negligence involved in people not wearing helmets, and he says it needs to change.
“As you’re older, you’re being a role model for a lot of people. So even if you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for others. I think it’s just a lack of [riders] caring if they get in an accident.”
At the end of the day, Anstey says there’s a classic saying to sum up the situation;
“If it comes to your head versus the tree – the tree’s always gonna win.”