How Are Off Road Vehicles Regulated in Alberta?

Author:Surtees, Jeff

You are thinking about spending a lot of money on a brand-new quad, dirt-bike, snowmobile or something similar. What are the rules? Who makes them? Where will you be able to use it?

Almost every human activity has the potential to affect the environment in some way. Regulating activities always creates perceived winners and losers. Nowhere is this more true than with the regulations which deal with off-highway vehicle ("OHV") use in Alberta. There is a lot of passionate debate in Alberta currently about where OHV use should be allowed. That may be the subject of a future column. In this column, I just want to look just at what the rules are right now and where they come from.

There is no single piece of legislation or government department that is responsible for regulating off-highway vehicle use in Alberta. Responsibility is divided between departments that regulate land use, forestry, the environment, agriculture and vehicles.

Rules about the vehicle and how it is operated:

Part 6 the Alberta Traffic Safety Act (the "Act") and the Off-Highway Vehicle Regulation (the "Regulations") passed under that Act set out the rules about machines themselves, registration requirements and general operation. Not many of these rules have anything to do with directly protecting the environment. Some of the important provisions are:

* if you operate an OHV on a highway (very broadly defined as anywhere people ordinarily operate vehicles), then all the rules that apply to vehicle operation apply to you;

* OHV operators must not drive carelessly, whether on public or private land;

* almost all OHV's must be registered and insured (there are exceptions for OHV's owned by farmers and used only on private land and for military vehicles);

* OHV operators are allowed to cross roads but must be careful and yield to other traffic;

* operators must stop when asked by a Peace Officer;

* municipalities can make some of their own rules about OHVs; and

* helmets must be worn, with exceptions for OHV's operated on Indian reserves, Metis settlements, farms and ranches.

The Regulations deal with details of how old you must be to drive on a highway (18, or between 14 and 18 if accompanied by someone 18 or older), and set out requirements for headlights, taillights, mufflers, serial numbers, license plates, helmets, registration and insurance.

Do any of these rules protect the environment? The answer is yes, although not always directly. The rules requiring mufflers of a...

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