The B.C. government is set to crack down on irresponsible operators of snowmobiles, dirt bikes, quads or other off-road vehicles that destroy public lands or endanger others.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson introduced long-awaited legislation Monday that will boost fines and make it easier to track reckless drivers and owners.
“The Off-Road Vehicle Act will lay down specific rules governing British Columbia’s growing off-road sector and will help ensure these vehicles are driven in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” Thomson told the legislature.
The government estimates there are about 200,000 off-road vehicles in B.C.
Owners will pay a one-time registration fee of $48 and will have to display a numbered plate before they can operate on Crown or public lands. The database will be integrated with the Insurance Corp. of B.C. vehicle registry, and peace officers will be able to track stolen or abandoned off-road vehicles.
The law also will give officers the power to stop and inspect vehicles for violations and seize some of them for evidence or safety reasons.
The maximum fine for offences will jump from $500 to $5,000.
Thomson said there also will be regulations that require drivers to wear helmets on public and Crown lands.
He stressed that the majority of off-road vehicle users respect the environment and the public. But some owners are responsible for damaging bogs and sensitive grasslands, he said.
“Without the ability to clearly identify those vehicles there was a gap in the ability to enforce,” he said. “We’ll be counting on all the clubs and groups out there to also be our ears and eyes on the ground.”
Jeremy McCall, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., said organizations have been pushing for the new law since 2002.
The legislation unveiled Monday stems from a framework released five years ago.
“It’s been a very long time in coming,” McCall said. “It’s going to be tremendously useful in terms of increasing safety standards on off-road vehicles.”
The council’s membership includes organizations that represent off-road vehicle users as well as associations of naturalists, mountaineers and the non-motorized crowd.
“From their point of view, if they see some quad rider or motorcyclist harming the environment or otherwise behaving in an unacceptable way, they’ll be able to get their binoculars out and see the vehicle identification plate and be able to report it,” McCall said. “We’re very hopeful that enforcement will be effective.”
Thomson said it took longer than desired to introduce the legislation because government was trying to develop a user-pay registry system that kept costs down.
“It’s been a long process I’ll certainly admit that,” he said.