Bocking recommends against ORVs on roads

By Kirk Winter

Bocking recommends against ORVs on roads

Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health for Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, recommended to council that ORVs be restricted to “trail use only.”

“There are many people in the city passionate about the issue of ORV usage,” Bocking said, but at public health “our mandate is to promote and protect the health of residents.”

“We also have as public health goals the promotion of active (non-motorized) transportation and supporting the creation of age-friendly communities,” she told council.

Bocking said that province–wide, ORVs are responsible for 50 per 100,000 visits to emergency rooms. In Kawartha Lakes, that number is much higher 175-226 per 100,000 in the years between 2015 and 2019.

In that five year window, 602 visits to the hospital emergency ward in Kawartha Lakes can be directly attributed to ORVs. That number puts Kawartha Lakes in the top four in Ontario for ORV injuries, and in 2019 the city sat second in Ontario for emergency room visits caused by ORV accidents.

“Thirty per cent of those injured were between 10 and 19 years of age, and another 27 percent were between 20 and 29 years of age,” Bocking said.

“Evidence available clearly indicates that there are higher rates of fatalities and serious injuries for ORV riders on roadways compared to off roadways,” Dr. Bocking said. “ORVs on roadways increase the chance/risk of collisions with other vehicles. Certain design characteristics of ATVS make them unsafe for roadways.”

The medical officer of health fears that ORV accidents are underreported. She adds that risk factors like alcohol and drugs, riding at night, lack of helmet usage and excessive speed make the reality of ORVs on roads more troubling.

Bocking told council if they choose to go ahead with the ORV pilot it should be with the following caveats:

  • ORV use should be restricted on rural arterial municipal roads
  • There should be restricted access to roads where road characteristics are not conducive to safe ORV usage.
  • There should be specific speed limits for ORVs on hard top roads
  • Night usage of the vehicles should be prohibited
  • A minimum age for usage should be determined
  • All riders should wear approved helmets
  • Rider education must be expanded
  • Enforcement of these rules must be stringent
  • Data must be gathered to determine if the pilot-project is worth renewing

Councillor Pat Dunn, who chairs the ORV Task Force, wanted to parse the statistics provided by HKPR. He first wondered if the number of ORV accidents included dirt bikes and was told the American studies did.

Dunn then wanted to know how many of the riders who had visited emergency wards were under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and wanted to know if those accidents had been included in the overall numbers. He was told they had. Dunn then wondered if the American statistics could be applied to Canada and was told “the studies were consistent” and the data was valid.

Dunn asked Bocking if it was appropriate to punish those who hadn’t committed a crime, and Bocking responded, “We look at all data through a public health lens. Decisions such as mandating seat belts could be viewed that way but we would rather look at the injuries and deaths prevented.”

Councillor Ron Ashmore asked if a recent Transport Canada decision for dealer-mandated safety training was a step forward for overall ORV safety. Bocking said she was “supportive of this important safety regulation.”

Mayor Andy Letham called Bocking’s appearance before council a “very balanced presentation.”

The mayor wondered, though, how mental health is factored into such a stance taken by the health unit.

“For some (riders), getting on their ATV and going for a ride is very important. These are just road linkages we are debating. There is always going to be risk. Every time we venture out we are taking a risk and it is important we remember this.”

“No activity has zero risk,” Bocking responded. “We are striving for risk reduction. We are encouraging people to get outside. It is challenging to find a balance. There are no perfect answers and many challenging decisions to be made.”

Bocking added that she hopes a decision about ORV usage would not undermine the Active Transportation initiatives being planned by the city.

–more to come.

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