In Newfoundland and Labrador, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) aren't just a mode of transportation — they're a way of life. Off-road trails intersect forests and fields, connecting houses, neighbourhoods and communities.
For youth, ATVs can provide a source of freedom and entertainment, especially in rural communities like Holyrood, N.L. But oftentimes, young drivers don't fully understand all the rules of the road.
"Here, we get a lot of complaints about youth driving [ATVs] on the road, without helmets or not following the proper regulations," says S/Sgt. Boyd Merrill, commander of the Holyrood RCMP detachment. "Catching these young people, giving them fines and releasing them wasn't working, so we had to be more proactive."
After a surge of ATV complaints in Holyrood last summer, Merrill consulted the town, emergency services and local schools. With input from youth, he created the TYRE program — Teaching Youth Responsibility through Education.
The two-hour program teaches ATV safety to youth aged 12 to 17. In it, Merrill discusses the laws and regulations, safe driving techniques and the penalties and fines for not following the law.
"It gives young ATV users the knowledge they need to make the right decisions so that reckless behaviour is diminished," says Merrill. "They learn to do things more safely so they aren't getting hurt, receiving complaints or damaging property."
The first session ran last October in Holyrood and drew approximately 40 youth, along with parents and members of the community. The demand was so high, Merrill ran a second session in December, and also presented the program in Ferryland, N.L., a neighbouring community.
"The most important thing was to target the right age of youth," says Sgt. Frank Flynn, an officer in-charge at the Ferryland detachment. "It was good to get the legalese out of the way to make sure everyone understood it in layman's terms. The laws aren't always written for the average person to understand."
After finishing the program, the teens got TYRE stickers to put on the back of their ATVs and helmets. The sticker lets the RCMP know that the youth have been educated, fostering more positive interactions with police.
Since the TYRE program was delivered last fall in Holyrood, the number of ATV complaints involving young people has dropped. Merrill says in April, his detachment got its first complaint in nine months.
"We saw a massive drop in not only complaints, but dangerous behaviour in general during our routine patrols," says Merrill. "As the weather gets warmer, there will inevitably be complaints, but we hope they'll be on a much smaller scale this year."
A rural issue
In Newfoundland and Labrador, youth can start driving ATVs when they turn 14, but it has to be below a certain size and they have to be with an adult. After the age of 16, they can drive any size of ATV without supervision. Additionally, all drivers are required to wear a helmet and goggles or a face shield, and they have to stick to trails rather than paved roads.
The TYRE program goes into the intricacies of these rules, making them easy for everyone to understand. According to Roger Myette, a Holyrood city councillor and avid ATV user, this is the first time the RCMP has held an event aimed at ATV safety, rather than bicycles or cars.
"These kids are good kids, but when they get on the road they think they're invincible," says Myette. "It was great to educate them and let them know what can happen if they aren't careful."
When the RCMP asked Myette for input in the TYRE program, he posed the question to his 15-year-old son.
"The first thing my son said was, 'Dad, I need stories I can relate to, if you give me stats and numbers, I'm going to zone out,' " says Myette.
The RCMP listened and included those real-life stories and consequences. "And the kids really retained the information because of it."
After the TYRE session last fall, Merrill says there's been a demand from adults in the Holyrood area who want a similar education program.
"The program is just as valuable to adults as it is to young people," says Merrill. "It's a new approach to something that's been an issue in rural parts of every province in the country."