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Fatal accidents involving off-road vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador double this year

Stock photo — 123RF
123RF Stock Photo

South coast teen killed on an ATV earlier this week is province's ninth such fatality in 2020

HARBOUR BRETON, N.L. —

An 18-year-old man on the province’s south coast has become the ninth victim of an accident involving a wheeled recreational vehicle in the province this year.

That’s an eye-opening number of fatalities, including for the police who investigate.

“Absolutely,” answered RCMP Media Relations Officer Cpl. Jolene Garland when asked if the RCMP has taken note of what might be seen as an epidemic of ATV accidents.


Cpl Jolene Garland — File photo
Cpl Jolene Garland — File photo


The RCMP in Harbour Breton says the latest incident occurred on Route 363 between St. Jacques and Belleoram sometime Monday or Tuesday

Officers can’t be specific as to the time of the accident, as the scene was only discovered Tuesday afternoon and reported to the police around 5:30 p.m.

The victim, who was located in a ditch near the damaged vehicle, was not wearing a helmet.

The RCMP says of the nine recreational vehicle fatalities in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2020, eight were the result of accidents involving ATVs or side-by-sides (the other involved a dirt bike).

According to Cpl. Garland, that’s just about double the number of similar fatalities in each of 2019 and 2018.


“It would be tough for us to specify as to exactly why, but that has been something we are considering,” she said “… the fact that people are getting out more, getting active, including taking to off-road vehicles during the pandemic because they might not be able to do other things they would normally do. — RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland


When asked about any relationship between the increase in fatalities and the COVID-19 pandemic, Cpl. Garland said police can’t definitely say that is the case, but added it is suggested by their experiences, including calls to incidents — fatal and non-fatal — involving ATVs and the like.

“It would be tough for us to specify as to exactly why, but that has been something we are considering,” she said “… the fact that people are getting out more, getting active, including taking to off-road vehicles during the pandemic because they might not be able to do other things they would normally do.

“We do know we are seeing that more people are using off-road vehicles and we are receiving an increased number of calls for service involving vehicles for all-terrain use.”

And that increasing number of deaths.

Four of the province’s ATV-related incidents have occurred in the last three weeks, including three where the victim wasn’t wearing a helmet.

In its news releases on the various accidents, the RCMP has made it a point to say whether a helmet was used.

“Anytime we can say safety equipment wasn’t used — whether it is a helmet, or a seat belt or a life jacket — we want to make the public aware that it would have certainly been a contributing factor to the death and that the death could have been preventable if that equipment had been worn or used,” said Cpl. Garland.

She also used the opportunity to speak to the need to wear helmets properly saying that, in a number of cases, officers have found a helmet at the scene but not on the victim suggesting it may have been worn improperly, with the chin strap not attached tightly enough or not attached at all.

Being called to such accidents is always tough on first responders, but it has been a particularly tough couple of days for members of the Harbour Grace detachment, who were also called on to investigate a fatal boating accident Tuesday. 

A 60-year-old man died when his vessel is believed to have struck rocks in the water near St. Alban’s sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning. The man’s body was discovered near the boat, which was submerged close to the shoreline.

He wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

In the case of the detachment’s investigation of the ATV accident on Route 363, the RCMP says the investigation is continuing to determine if alcohol was a contributing factor.

Impaired driving on ATVs was another subject Garland emphasized when interviewed.

“We want to just get the message out to the public that drugs, alcohol and ATVs don’t mix, just as the same as motor vehicles,” she said. “We want people to stay safe and sober on trails just the same as we want to see people safe and sober in their motor vehicles on roads.”

That prompted an additional thought — that off-road vehicles are what their name implies and that all-terrain doesn't necessarily mean all surfaces.

“We urge people to stay on the trails and not operate their ATVs and side-by-sides on the road,” said Cpl Garland. 

“Basically, all-terrain vehicles are not designed or meant for pavement use.”

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