On the heels of the second ATV-related death in Newfoundland and Labrador in less than a week, the head of the Newfoundland T'Railway Council is frustrated, saddened and calling out a provincewide culture that he says needs to change.
An 18-year-old was found dead by the side of the highway between the south coast communities of St. Jacques and Belleoram late Tuesday afternoon, according to Harbour Breton RCMP. A damaged ATV was nearby and he was not wearing a helmet.
The teenager's death comes three days after a 59-year-old man from Gambo was pinned under his ATV on Saturday evening and later died in hospital.
Those deaths are two of the nine so far in the province in 2020, four in August alone, including a man driving an ATV without a helmet who collided head-on with an SUV on a residential street in Conne River on Aug. 5, and a woman from Corner Brook in a side-by-side in the early hours of the Aug 16.
One word goes through Rick Noseworthy's head upon hearing of the latest tragedies, he said: "preventable."
"You think of the families left behind, and you think of the unnecessary suffering, and it's very disturbing."
A culture that needs to change
Noseworthy, the president of the T'Railway Council as well as the Avalon T'Railway Corporation, has spoken out about ATV safety for years. Seeing deaths involving riders not wearing helmets or seatbelts, at night and alone, he said he's at a loss as to why the message isn't sinking in.
"I don't know why. We seem to be wearing our seatbelts in cars," he said.
"It's a culture that we certainly got to change. We don't smoke in public places anymore.… I really don't know the answer to it."
ATVs are fun, said Noseworthy, but that doesn't excuse the need to ride responsibly. And while he sees lots of underage riders, he doesn't put the blame on youths alone.
"Even the nuisance operators on the ATVs going up and down the roads, if they are children, it's not a children's problem. There's an adult enabling them to drive the machines," he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
Enforcement: everyone's responsibility
He also doesn't think the problem is with ATV regulations.
"For the most part, the rules are pretty strong," he said. "People know that they're breaking the law."
Police can't be everywhere, he said, and the onus of shifting riding culture toward safer practices is on everyone in the community, who need to call out dangerous behaviours when they're spotted.
But there are a few areas that could use a boost from the legal system, he said.
"I would like to see more teeth in regulations when it comes to ATVs on the road, as well as ATVs being operated by underage riders," he said.
Noseworthy said younger riders like 16-year-olds should be allowed to ride by themselves only if they have a permit or driver's licence, particularly when those ATVs are being used on roads. Currently there are no such permits or licences required.
The legislation around ATVs was last updated in 2005. Noseworthy said the provincial government is working on legislative changes, and what is in the works so far seems positive.