Minto council approves use of off-road vehicles on town roads

Town also calls for county to address ORV use

MINTO – Council here has approved a bylaw to permit and regulate the use of off-road vehicles (ORV) on town-owned roads.

Along with the bylaw, approved on April 6, council also passed a resolution requesting Wellington County council approve the use of ORVs on county roads within the Town of Minto.

The issue arose at the Nov. 3 meeting, when a delegation requested the town approve the use of such vehicles on municipal roadways, in part to allow better access to trails outside of the town limits.

At the Dec. 1 council meeting, staff was directed to develop a draft bylaw and to seek input from the OPP.

As of July 1, ORVs have been permitted on all roads that fall under Ontario Regulation 8/03. As of Jan. 1, all municipalities listed in Ontario Regulation 8/03 must pass a bylaw in order to prohibit or restrict their use, otherwise they are allowed.

Because it’s a town rather than a township, Minto is not listed in Ontario Regulation 8/03 so the town would need to pass a bylaw in order to both allow ORVs and regulate their use.

The Town of Minto and the Town of Erin are the only two municipalities within Wellington County that are not listed in the new regulation.

On April 6, bylaw officer Cam Forbes presented council with a staff report compiled after consulting with the Ontario Federation of ATV Clubs, Wellington County Farm and Home Safety Association, Huron County, Wellington County, Wellington County OPP and surrounding municipalities both within and outside Wellington County.

The report notes that Howick, South Bruce, West Grey, Hanover, Southgate, Owen Sound and Saugeen Shores all have a current ORV bylaw, while Wellington North and Mapleton are not opposing the new regulations and will allow ORV use on their roads.

The report points out that while there are no ORV trails within Wellington, there are trails located to the north and east of Minto.

“The trails start just north of Clifford,” and run to the Owen Sound and Kincardine areas, Forbes explained.

“Apparently there’s more trails that would get you up to Tobermory … you can actually get down to Orangeville, as far over as Elmdale,” said Forbes.

The report indicates concerns about allowing ORVs on roads include a possible increase in OPP calls for service due to unsafe operation, trespassing, use on walking trails, impaired driving and damage to public and private property

“That’s all true but those are regulated under the different acts that come into play for ORVs, especially on roads,” said Forbes.

“Also, you can’t use an ATV on someone else’s property without permission. That is trespassing and something that the OPP would enforce.”

While Wellington County does not permit off-road vehicles to use county roads, Forbes noted a county roads committee report from March 9 indicates, “further discussions on the operation of ORVs within the county will be undertaken.”

“So there is a possibly minds can be changed if the need is there,” Forbes suggested.

The report explains Grey, Bruce and Dufferin counties all allow ORVs to use some roads and Huron County has recently changed its bylaw to allow some roads to be used, but only in Howick Township.

While the proposed bylaw before Minto council that evening permits use of some ORVs, it also prohibits use of off-road motorcycles and “extreme terrain vehicles.”

The latter, Forbes described as “Like your Argos, six wheels and up.”

The report notes provincial legislation regulates the “safety and nuisance aspects” of ORV use, such as permitted speeds, age of riders, helmets, reflectors, noise/exhaust emissions.

“In addition to this, staff is recommending additional controls to further protect municipal properties and citizens” by prohibiting ATVs from:

  • using parks, walking trails, community centres and cemeteries;
  • driving on sidewalks and boulevards;
  • operating near churches and funeral homes while services are in progress;
  • driving in the downtown cores of all three urban areas;
  • operating near schools during the school year from 8am to 4:30pm;
  • driving near nursing homes and the hospital;
  • operating between the hours of 11pm and 6am; and
  • operating between December and March (except while being used for the purpose of hunting).

“Although county-wide consistency regarding the usage of ATVs is not achievable, staff is recommending that the proposed bylaw is passed which will maintain consistency with the northern municipalities and … control the usage of ATVs on municipal properties,” the report states.

Prior to the presentation of Forbes’ report, council heard from Don Senek of the Minto Safe Community Committee, which opposes allowing ORVs on local roads.

“Our reasoning is quite simple. Any data that we have found all came to the same conclusion: ATVs and public roads are a deadly combination,” Senek stated.

“ATVs are called ‘off road vehicles.’ Even ATV manufacturers themselves publish warnings that ATVs are not designed to be operated on public roads.”

Senek added, “The knobby, low-pressure tires on ATVs are explicitly designed for off-road use and may not interact properly with a road surface. The ATVs high centre of gravity and narrow wheel base can be prone to rollovers when negotiating turns.”

Senek cited a manufacturer’s warning from Honda that states, “Your ATV is designed and manufactured for off-road use only. The tires are not made for pavement, and most ATVs do not have signals, rear view mirrors and other features required for use on public roads.’

Senek said a comparison between Wellington County, which doesn’t permit ORVs on county roads, and Haliburton Highlands, which does, shows that between 2016 and 2020, there were 24 collisions involving ORVs in Wellington County while in Haliburton Highlands there were 58.

“In that same period there was one fatal collision in Wellington County but there were eight deaths in Haliburton Highlands. These figures should speak for themselves,” he continued.

Councillor Jean Anderson asked what the local OPP’s position is on the issue.

“I did read the county report on this same topic and the OPP were definitely against authorizing it,” said Anderson.

Also, she added, “I have concerns with us opening it up without county roads, because I don’t really see where it’s going to get you.

“I have huge concerns about the policing. Is that the best use of their time to be chasing these? They’re currently not pursuing these people.”

Anderson added, “They don’t adhere to the speed limits. We’re looking for more accidents than we already have.”

As a registered nurse, Anderson said, “In my career I have seen some tragic, tragic accidents – without them being on public roads.”

Wellington OPP detachment commander Inspector Paul Richardson was a participant in the videoconference meeting.

“At the risk of sounding political, the OPP are apolitical in the process,” Richardson explained.

“But always our concerns is public safety and I think it’s fair to say that when you have a vehicle that has no external protection other than a helmet and it interacts with a motor vehicle, there’s always room for a dire outcome.”

The inspector told council, “There are few challenges when it’s done so safely. The challenge becomes when it’s done in a manner that is not safe.”

Anderson said the ORVs are “not stable vehicles.

“People don’t use them safely now. What would make you think they’re going to start using them safely when they have more access?”

Deputy mayor Dave Turton said, “I think what we have to decide here is are we going to allow it or are we not going to allow it and the pros and cons going forward.

“Everything we do, we think about safety and whether we should be doing it or not – motorcycles, four-wheelers, snowmobiles, cars – the guy behind the wheel of the automobile is the guy that has to stay on his own side and be aware and I think that’s the big thing here … awareness.”

Turton added, “The comments from Cam pretty well say it all. We are trying to restrict the ATV drivers and I’m in favour of this bylaw because I think we need it to go ahead.”

Councillor Mark MacKenzie said he felt enforcement of the bylaw would be a problem and that without access to county roads it would be of little use to ORV drivers.

“To open up parts of an urban centre … it’s going to be a nightmare out there with vehicles going up certain streets and not others,” said MacKenzie.

“I think we should wait until the county decides what they’re doing with their roads.”

Councillor Judy Dirksen said, “I don’t’ think there’s any argument that the ATVs can be unsafe whether they’re on roads, or used on private land, or on trails, or anywhere else,” adding the Minto Safe Community Committee raised good points about such concerns as helmet use, driving at night speeding and alcohol and drug use by riders.

“But I think you could say those exact things about motorcycles and almost those exact things about automobiles – maybe not wearing seatbelts instead of not wearing helmets, like you might have to switch out a couple of things.

“But really, when it comes right down to it, the onus is on the operator of that vehicle, whatever that vehicle happens to be. So I think it’s important that people realize that these are dangerous pieces of equipment.”

Dirksen added, “I’ve got quite a few calls on this advocating for both sides, lots of advice out there. I guess one of the bigger concerns maybe was trespassing and damage to private and public property … I don’t know whether this is going to increase or not.

“I would hope not. I think we need to do what we can, maybe some signage … Maybe we could point people to an ATV course.”

Dirksen pointed out, “I think this whole things is not just about getting people to trails … it could be neighbours in the rural areas getting from one property to another to go ATVing on their own property or their neighbours’ private property.

“Those who are serious about driving on roads, do they need a license and insurance for their machine?”

“If they travel on a road they have to be licensed and insured,” replied CAO Derrick Thomson.

Councillor Geoff Gunson suggested allowing ORVs could have local economic benefits.

“I did some studying and there’s lots of stats out there. One that hit me was in 2015 Ontario residents spent $974 million on activities directly involving the operation of all-terrain vehicles,” he said.

“So right now, in a pandemic, we’re worrying about our small businesses. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could bring more people to spend money in our town? I think the first step in this process is allowing ATVs to access our towns. And then we work as a group and maybe join in a trail system and set trails and maybe get off the roads.”

Gunson added, “I think the first step is passing the bylaw to get them access.

“When you do that you can actually join the trail alliance and … the permit dollars will actually come back to your community to work on those trails.

“We talk about safety,” Gunson continued. “The biggest safety concern I have every morning is coming out of the Tim Hortons parking lot in Harriston.”

Gunson, a Minto firefighter, said, “I’ve been to car accidents, to your point Jean, and I get where you’re coming from.

“I’ve been to car accidents where people are intoxicated and had head on collisions. So the safety lies with the person in control of that vehicle.”

Mayor George Bridge said he favours regulation of ORVs and maintaining consistency with neighbouring municipalities.

“If we put some more rules and regulations in, I hope that we can enforce it a little better. But if you’re coming from Mapleton and going to Wellington North and using our backroads, how do you know you’re not in Minto or whatever?” Bridge stated.

“I like the fact that because we have to do the bylaw we actually can put some rules and regulations in. That give us a little bit more teeth.

“As far as the safety concerns, it really comes down to the operators … I understand they’re not perfect but at the end of the day you’re supposed to go at a lower speed.”

Bridge said clarification on county road usage would eventually be needed.

“I’m not sure that’s a dead horse at this time because according to the other mayors … we have to come up with something on that because it makes no sense that the province will let you go on a highway but you can’t go on a county road,” said the mayor.

“I think we have to do something ourselves now. That’s why we have to have the bylaw. We can’t wait for the county. This could be going on until the fall with the county.”

“Here lies the problem in a nutshell,” said Thomson.

“Regardless of whether we pass a bylaw or not, ATVs are still going to use your roads. They do now. The question becomes, do you have a bylaw that has some form of enforcement?”

Council approved a motion to receive the report and consider a bylaw to permit and regulate ORVs on town roads in a recorded vote.

Bridge, Gunson, Dirksen, Turton and councillor Ron Ellliott voted in favour. MacKenzie and Anderson were opposed.

The bylaw to regulate ORVs passed later in the meeting. The vote was again recorded with the same result.

Council also approved a resolution requesting Wellington County council approve use of ORVs on county roads within Minto by a 6-1 margin, with only Anderson opposed.