Snowmobiling and the Law in Cottage Country

Now that Winter has finally arrived in cottage country it is time to think snow.  To get around and have fun in heavy snow and ice conditions snowmobiles are very popular and practical.  We are blessed with trails and forests and lakes for snowmobiling.  Before you hit the trail be aware of the legal requirements for these vehicles.  First and foremost do not drink and drive.

You may drive a snowmobile if you have any valid driver’s licence. If you do not have a driver’s licence and are 12 or older, a valid motorized snow-vehicle operator’s licence (MSVOL) will allow you to drive on trails maintained by a recreational organization. The snow-vehicle operator’s licence is issued by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.  You need to carry your driver’s licence or snow-vehicle operator’s licence when driving anywhere but on your own property.  To drive along or across a public road where snowmobiles are allowed, you must be at least 16 years of age.  It is illegal for anyone under 16 to drive on or across any road. A helmet is required for anyone driving or riding on a snowmobile.

You may drive your snowmobile on your own property, on private trails or property when you have the owner’s consent, or in permitted City zones. Snowmobiles are only permitted on public highways for direct crossing.  You must come to a complete stop and yield to all vehicles and pedestrians before crossing roads. Snowmobiles are not permitted on sidewalks, pathways, footpaths, schoolyards, or playgrounds.

You also need proof of ownership, registration, proof of insurance, a helmet and a snowmobile trail permit if on registered Ontario trails. Ontario residents must register their snowmobiles with the MTO, display registration numbers and show proof of insurance. of insurance and registration, or bill of sale. Before driving a snowmobile it must be registered with the Ministry of Transportation through a Service Ontario centre. A new snowmobile must be registered within six days of sale. If you buy a new snowmobile, your dealer will register it for you.  If you buy a used snowmobile that has been previously registered, you need the signed snow-vehicle permit and the bill of sale to transfer the registration in your name. After registering you will be given a permit and registration number decal to display on your snowmobile. Unless you are driving your registered snowmobile on your own property you must have a current validation sticker on your registration decal.

You can drive a snowmobile on your own property without insurance, but once you are off your property insurance is needed. This means that on roads, trails or lakes you will need insurance.  The insurance card should be carried with you at all times when driving the snowmobile. If you are injured in a snowmobile accident you may be entitled to motor vehicle accident benefits.  You may be entitled to make a liability claim against the at-fault driver.

If you are injured in a snowmobile accident or an auto accident, you are required to make a claim for motor vehicle accident benefits within seven days from the date of the accident. Claim forms must be submitted with the insurance company within 30 days. You are supposed to put the other driver on notice of your intention to file a claim within 120 days from the date of the accident.  These time limits are not generally enforced strictly.  Most importantly you have two years to file a lawsuit from the date of the accident.  Do not wait until the 2 year point or after as you may lose your right to make a claim. If you are seriously injured in a snowmobile accident it is best to get legal advice from a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.  Enjoy the Winter and watch out for thin ice.

Submitted by Daniel J. Miskin, B.A., LL.B., Miskin Law Office, Peterborough,

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