ATV and Snowmobile Insurance: Know Before You Go Off-Road this Winter

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It’s that time of the year. The snow is falling on the peaks and valleys of our beautiful province. For some of you, it marks the opportunity to fling yourself over hills, bumps, rocks, and stumps, and all other obstacles found on the off-road. Hey, whatever floats your boat, or should we say ATV or snowmobile?

Your penchant for outdoor adventure is applauded. You deserve your escape from the 9 to 5 grind and rush hour traffic. That being said, you still need to abide by the rules of the road, off-road included. However, many neglect to consider the implications of the right (or wrong) insurance plan. ATVs and snowmobiles are often an afterthought, feeling more akin to recreational equipment than the vehicle category. But vehicles they are, and thus they come with their own set of liabilities in the event of an accident that brings harm to person, place, or thing. Before you rev up your ride for the winter season, please consider the following.

What You Need to Know About Insurance Before Taking Your Off-Road Vehicle Out this Winter

Your ATV / Snowmobile Falls Under the Off-Road Vehicles Act 

The Off-Road Vehicles (ORV) Act was implemented in November 2014. The most recent version for B.C. was updated on November 9/2016. Know it well.

Which highlights are most important to you? For starters, owners will want to register the ORV with ICBC. Any change of name or address must be provided to ICBC within 10 days of the change. Given that many ATVs and snowmobiles are acquired on the secondary market, be it through private sale on Craigslist or Kijiji, you will need to ensure that the notice of the transfer is made in a form that is satisfactory to ICBC. Once ICBC has received the notice (subject to the regulations and payment of the prescribed fees) they will issue a new registration for the ORV in your name, along with a distinctive number plate or decal.

Simply put, to operate your ATV or snowmobile this winter, you will need to ensure that you have met the following criteria:

  • Your ATV/snowmobile is registered with ICBC under the ORV Act, or it is registered in a jurisdiction other than British Columbia, and thus has the appropriate identifiers (plate, decal, etc.) displayed on it in the manner appropriate to that jurisdiction.
  • You have in your possession a copy of the the certificate of registration.

What Negates Your Right to Operate the ORV?

Before you hitch your ATV or snowmobile and tow for the hills, you must be mindful of things that negate your right to operate an ORV, and subsequently terminate your insurance policy. For instance, you must not drive the vehicle in a reckless and/or negligent manner that may injure people, wildlife, livestock, domestic animals, or damage property. You must not ride on operational railway tracks or any other Crown fixture that could be damaged by an ORV. While the BC wilderness may seem open and free, you may not be aware of private land. You are not permitted to ride on private land without the consent of the owner, lessee or occupant, so be mindful of signs, fence posts, and other indicators. Download a map for reference beforehand.

Safety Requirements

Taking the necessary safety precautions makes sense for obvious reasons. In Canada, snowmobiling has the highest rate of serious injury of any mainstream winter activity.

But beyond your health, and that of your passengers, not taking the necessary precautions can complicate your ability to make, or defend against, a claim. Drivers and passengers must wear an approved off-road vehicle safety helmet. Those that like to ride during dawn or dusk patrol need to take note too. Insufficient light is deemed to be a safety threat, and thus ORV operators violate safety guidelines when driving on Crown or private land from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. Before taking your off-road vehicle out in the winter, be sure to check that its lighting systems and reflectors are maintained in optimal working order.

When You Need to Use a Driver’s License

A driver’s license is not required when operating an ORV off-road. However, if the vehicle is ever used on a public road, forest service road, or highway, a valid driver’s license is necessary. If driving on the prescribed roads, and you fail to produce a license, you are subject to fines and prosecution. If you do not have a driver’s license, and get into an ORV accident while on one of the prescribed roads (as the driver), you could land yourself in very hot water, legally and with respect to insurance claims.

What About the Kids?

Off-road, youth under-16 are allowed to operate an ATV or snowmobile. However, they must meet the manufacturer’s minimum age specifications. Make sure you have this information from your dealer. If your ATV/snowmobile was purchased on the secondary market you will need to perform the necessary research.

Youth must not operate an off-road vehicle on Crown land without being accompanied by an adult (19 years of age and up) with a valid driver’s license, or training certification. However, there are exceptions. Those 14 to 15 years of age may receive written permission from a parent or guardian confirming that they have appropriate training to operate the ATV or snowmobile. Youth are also permitted to operate an ORV for authorized sporting events (winter action sports) where injury prevention mandates are in place.

Failure to meet any of the above can terminate any policy that intends to protect you from liability.

When You Are Required to Carry Insurance

There are many likely scenarios where you are required to carry liability insurance for your ATV and snowmobile. If you operate an ATV or snowmobile on a forest service road in British Columbia you are required. In fact, if you are stopped by a conservation officer (which the Act allows) they can demand to see your proof of insurance. If you have none on your person, you are subject to a hefty fine. This coverage isn’t just about following law. It’s about protecting you from claims that can occur should your off-road activities cause harm to another person, to land, property, or wildlife.

A lack of education on ORV liability has some thinking that their homeowner’s insurance policy covers them here. While your liability insurance covers you for losses arising from use of a trailer, small boats, golf carts, and garden tractors, separate liability coverage must be purchased for ATVs and snowmobiles.

There’s a lot more involved in operating an ORV this winter than you thought, isn’t there? But don’t let it get in the way of your enjoyment. Simply contact Park Insurance to inquire about a comprehensive policy that will protect you from all liability concerns.

Happy (and Safe) Off-Road Trails this Winter Season!


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