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EDITORIAL: It just takes co-operation

Published on August 5, 2017

P.E.I. ATV enthusiasts head out for a fun run.

©Guardian File Photo

The fatal crash involving an all terrain vehicle (ATV) in central P.E.I. last week raises the issues of safety and accessibility for machine operators.  

ATV owners on P.E.I. face considerable challenges - their vehicles are not allowed on the Confederation Trail, a tempting track that is reserved for walkers, runners and bicyclists during the summer, and for snowmobilers in winter. Nor are ATVs permitted on roadways.
Without permission from landowners, ATVs are not allowed on private property. Almost 90 per cent of this province’s land is privately owned, the highest percentage in Canada. The province is the most densely populated in the country – you can’t get very far in most areas before encountering a residence or farmland.
Some operators don’t do themselves or other ATV drivers any favours by racing noisy machines at high speeds near homes. They can go almost anywhere, and unfortunately, that sort of access gets them in trouble as well. ATVs can be intrusive. It’s not uncommon in some areas of the province to see ATV drivers taunt RCMP and then race off where police cannot follow.
Many of us judge those outdoor enthusiasts too harshly. The machines are fun, and most times, navigate areas out of sight and sound. A group of ATV’ers out for a fun run offers an exhilarating experience and also supports rural areas. Nature can be explored. It’s the summertime version of snowmobiling, a winter pastime that has earned wide acceptance and support from the public.
At least five ATV clubs are in operation here which would embrace the opportunity to connect with each other, and at some point, create an Island-wide network. ATV supporters look longingly at neighbouring provinces; Crown lands in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia offer tens of thousands of acres and countless ATV trails.
The P.E.I. government supports cyclists and snowmobilers. It can certainly be more supportive of ATV owners and help them develop more trails and opportunities to enjoy their outdoor activity.
The province could provide tax breaks to landowners who agree to allow unused parts of their property or farms to be developed into ATV trails. Government has an obligation to help this constituency. It collects taxes and registration fees and must reciprocate that support. It should also enhance safety training courses so tragic incidents like the one last week can be reduced or eliminated.
Legislation could be relaxed to allow ATVs access to more areas to help with problem riders. For example, legislation could allow vehicles to drive on some secondary roads, or along clay and dirt roads where less vehicles travel.
The P.E.I. ATV Federation is doing what it can. It has teamed with some rural landowners to build private trails to help riders stay off farmland and the Confederation Trail. Using these trails also helps keep riders safe and protects agriculture and sensitive areas like wetlands, shores and dunes.
There are ways to ensure a peaceful co-existence between ATV riders and rural Islanders. It just takes a little co-operation.