Ontario Snowmobile Laws in Need of Reform

Ontario’s snowmobile laws are in focus following the death of an 11-year-old girl on February 1st.

Amanda Huxley was driving her snowmobile across a highway south of Iroquois Falls, ON when a transport truck struck her. She was taken to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead. The accident occurred while she out for a ride with three other people, including family members.

Snowmobile Laws in Ontario

The law in Ontario prohibits anyone under the age of 12 from driving a snowmobile on public roads and trails. People between the ages of 12 and 16 must pass a safety training course and get a motorized snow vehicle operator’s licence to ride. To cross roads or drive on roadways, drivers must be at least 16 years old or have a valid Ontario driver’s licence.

11-year-old Amanda Huxley not properly trained and licenced. But children just a few months older than her can legally – and easily – get a snowmobile licence in Ontario. And there is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of safety training in preventing accidents.

Tragic incidents like this raise questions about the snowmobile laws in Ontario. Questions not just about whether the law does enough to protect kids – but whether kids should be out on the trails in the first place.

Stats on Snowmobile Safety

Each year, as many as 50 people die in snowmobile accidents in Ontario and Quebec alone. Four of these victims are children under the age of 16. Despite these statistics, there are no national standards for use of snowmobiles by children and youth in Canada.

Since snowmobiles are motor vehicles, most provinces prohibit children from crossing the road on a snowmobile. However, this rule is difficult to follow in practice. Most snowmobile trails cross over the road at least a few times, and the law does little to convince young enthusiasts (and their older companions) to stick to a small section of the trails.

Snowmobiling carries the highest risk of serious injuries of any popular winter sport in Canada – and children are most at risk. The Canadian Paediatric Society advises against allowing persons under 16 to drive a snowmobile, arguing that many children and adolescents lack the skills to safely operate the machine.

Why the Law Needs Reform

In its current state, Ontario’s snowmobile laws do little to protect those who are most vulnerable to snowmobile-related injuries. Children as young as 12 can suit up and hit the private snowmobile trails without any parental supervision. Since most of these trails cross over various roads and highways, the law is effectively useless in keeping kids off the roads.

A snowmobile is not a toy. It is a 500-pound, gas-powered motor vehicle that takes a great deal of strength to maneuver. The law should not permit children under 16 to drive these vehicles anywhere, be it on a private trail or a public highway.

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