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COLUMN: Breaking traffic bylaws risks lives

by Cody Punter

Summertime in the Kivalliq wouldn't be the same without the low rumble of Hondas zipping around town. There is a good reason for this: the all-terrain machines are much cheaper and more efficient than cars, which allows people to get around town quickly, and they also have the ability to handle the tougher terrain where hunters, fishers and lovers of the land like to travel on a daily basis.

Up until recently in Rankin Inlet, ATVs also had the added advantage of being able to fly below the radar of the long arm of the law.

That changed with the hamlet's decision to start enforcing its long-defunct ATV bylaws this summer. The list of rules and regulations cover a range of issues from the bureaucratic licensing and registration to more common sense laws like enforcing speed limits in school zones and requiring all riders to wear helmets.

The rules were introduced last year to comply with the the territory's traffic laws, along with an educational campaign to help spread the word about their impending enforcement.

As of this week the hamlet's bylaw officers will be trading words of cautions for tickets.

Most of the fines start at $25 for a first offence, while anyone caught for dangerous driving risks a $500 fine and the confiscation of their machine.

Most the rules are important to an extent but it is the ones intended to protect people which could have the greatest consequences if not followed properly.

ATVs may be cheap and practical but the one thing they are lacking in is safety. Unlike a car, there is no seat belt, no air bag, no aluminum siding wrapped over a steel frame to stop you from sailing through the air and landing on your head should you ever crash or get hit by another vehicle.

There seems to be a consensus that the biggest culprits for not adhering to these laws are youth.

Although none of them would comment officially to the newspaper, a group of young teenagers no older than 17 were bragging about how they would never wear helmets while I was conducting interviews for this week's Street Talk. Indeed, they were all laughs and smiles as they shared stories of speeding to escape from bylaw officers rather than pulling over for them.

My younger self can empathize with the desire to flaunt the law. Rebellion and disregard for safety are a universal rite of passage.

But the line must be drawn somewhere and needlessly endangering one's life or that of others seems a reasonable place to start.

As Fire Chief Mark Wyatt has pointed out, there are several major ATV accidents in Rankin every year. Last fall a man in Baker Lake lost his life after he crashed an ATV while trying to get away from RCMP. He was not wearing a helmet.

While there are those who will say they are in control of their machines – “I know what I'm doing” is a common refrain – all it takes is another vehicle to make a mistake for irreparable damage to be done. As my dad always used to tell me, broken bones will heal but you only get one brain.

Another concern, which some people have raised is that helmets are too expensive. Wyatt rightfully points out that buying a helmet is cheaper than facing a fine. However, if money truly is an issue for some families, there should be some way of raising money – a bingo perhaps – to ensure that everyone who wants a helmet can get one.

For all its obvious benefits, there is one area where the hamlet's ATV bylaw misses the mark: limiting the number of people who can ride a machine at a time to two.

While the regulation may make sense from a safety standpoint it fails to take into consideration the fact that there are many single parents in town who have more than one young child.

As such it is very common to see people riding on their ATVs with two or three youngsters on their way to run errands at the Northern Store or to visit family members on the other side of town.

So long as everyone is wearing helmets and riding within the speed limit, there should be a provision that allows more than two people to be on an ATV.

Time will tell if enforcing fines will achieve their desired result but if the bylaws can help save even one life, then they will be well worth the trouble.