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Government on track to reform off-road vehicle rules

The B.C. government is blazing a trail toward revamping off-road vehicle regulations with legislation introduced last week.

The Off Road Vehicle Ac, is intended to update the 40-year-old B.C. Motor Vehicle Act as it pertains to off road vehicles such as quads, trail bikes and snowmobiles.

If passed, the legislation would establish a registration system and a database, administered through the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, that would allow law enforcement to more easily identify vehicles and owners. Snowmobiles have been registered in B.C. since the 1970s, but there is no database for investigators to track down rightful ownership of stolen off-road vehicles.

Off-road vehicles would also have to display a number plate before they could be operated on public land.

The proposed bill also calls for mandatory use of helmets and would also give police authority to stop and fine operators, and in some cases even seize vehicles, for operating snowmobiles, trail bikes and quads dangerously, in commission of a crime or for damaging sensitive environmental habitat. The maximum fine for offences would also be raised to $5,000 from $500.

The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has been tinkering with the bill and consulting with off road vehicle user groups since November 2009.

Blake Erickson, a director with the Mid-Island Sno-Blazers Snowmobile Association, said the proposed legislation is a good first step that doesn't quite go far enough.

"It's going to provide some immediate benefits to some off-road enthusiasts right off the bat because registration will help take away the black market in stolen sleds and ATVs," Erickson said.

Erickson said he would like to see the legislation include full licensing, and mandatory safety and operation training for off-road vehicles.

Licensing would also allow off-road vehicles to cross public roads at designated crossing points, which would help in the creation a wilderness trail network.

"With licensing comes the opportunity for tourism and road crossings in the province that up till now have inhibited development of a trail system, such as exists in half of the rest of the country," Erickson said. "Quebec has 19,000 kilometres of groomed snowmobile trails and a huge tourism industry.

There are currently about 200,000 off-road vehicles operating in the province, but B.C. is one of the last provinces in Canada that does not have registration requirements.

Dave Baumann, co-owner of Tuff City Powersports, said he likes the safety and anti-theft potential that could be realized from creating a registration database, but has concerns about the long-term costs, plus added paperwork and layers of bureaucracy that could arise from the registration system.

"This is my business," Baumann said. "This is what I deal with every day and I see the amount of fees that are involved in this."

Baumann also said the legislation would not give off-road vehicle operators any more access to Crown land and private forest lands than they already have through arrangements with government and private holders such as Timberwest.

As far as the potential for trail development and maintenance, Baumann said he would sooner see those operators who dump garbage, cause fires and damage sensitive habitat targeted and the proceeds from fines used for adventure trail development.

"As far as theft and tracking goes? Yes. Absolutely," Bauman said. "As far as everything else goes, not a big fan of it."

Brent Cherie, president of the Mid Island ATV Club, said overall, ATV owners are happy about the anti-theft aspects proposed in the legislation, but he worries about what other strings could be attached, such as the possibility for authorities to chase down and demand payment of sales taxes from private sales of used all-terrain vehicles when purchasers try to register machines.

"There's a lot of things people haven't thought of that are going to pop up," Cherie said.

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