(Source: MTQ’s Quebec Off-Road Vehicle Act).
We all have one thing in common: a passion for off-road vehicles, regardless of their nature. People who practice this passion, experienced or not, are not always aware of all the rules that must be followed to ride legally and especially safely in Quebec. It is with the aim of informing and helping people in their practice that I am writing this article, wishing that everyone can ride without risking their life or the life of others, while avoiding fines sometimes salty!
In Quebec, this passion that we all practice is governed by the “off-road vehicle law” which serves as a guide and obligation in terms of safety. First, the thousands of kilometers of federated trails are managed by an organization called the Fédération Québecoise des Club Quads (FQCQ). This is the gathering of all the quad clubs in Quebec that manages the provincial situation at this level. These clubs, in conjunction with the FQCQ, manage the trails by maintaining them, developing new trails as needed and ensuring the visibility and quality of legal signage.
All of this work is done in order to ensure the safety of the club members who use the trails. There are also some government grants to help the QCCF and affiliated clubs. It is mandatory to have a “trail pass” that members must purchase from the QCCF. A portion of the money paid by the members goes back to the clubs, a small portion to the QCCF for its operations. Liability insurance is now included in the purchase, as it is also mandatory to be insured to ride on federated trails. It should be noted that a similar organization exists in the snowmobile world.
Where to ride?
On the trail, the maximum speed varies between 30 and 50 km/h, depending on what the signage prescribes. It is totally forbidden to drive on public roads with an off-road vehicle, except where the signs clearly allow it. It is also permitted to ride on all lands that are referred to as “Crown lands”. Some uninformed people believe that we are allowed to ride on the roads within a certain distance. This is totally false, a law enforcement officer meeting you on the road could ask you to stop and fine you at any time once you are off the marked trail. Know that no one is supposed to be ignorant of the law. Not knowing the law is not an argument for breaking it. On the trail, trail patrols are responsible for enforcing the law and have the same powers of intervention as a police officer in terms of educating or fining those who break the law.
For vehicle regulations, the text of the “law on off-road vehicles” of the Quebec Ministry of Transport is a few dozen pages long. I will try to summarize the main points that one must know and respect when riding on the trail. What I am going to talk about applies to ATVs “equipped with a seat and handlebars” as well as to side-by-side vehicles “whose weight does not exceed 500 kg for single-seaters and 950 kg for multi-seaters” whether they have two, four or six seats. The maximum width “at the wheels” is 66 inches. This law was added to the law recently to accommodate certain manufacturers whose 64-inch vehicles could sometimes be a little wider, despite the manufacturer certifying its legal width, for various reasons that are a whole other debate.
It is now mandatory to have a driver’s license to ride these vehicles on federated trails. Just like cars on the road, it is mandatory to follow the legal signage. For example, you must make a complete stop when a “STOP” sign is on the edge of the trail, whether you think it is justified or not. The minimum age to ride a quad vehicle (3 wheels and 4 wheels) is 16 years old and 18 years old for side-by-side vehicles. The vehicles must be registered with the SAAQ in the same way as a car or motorcycle.
There is certain mandatory equipment that an off-road vehicle must be equipped with. This equipment must be compliant and follow certain certification and safety levels. First of all, there must be at least one white headlight on the front of the vehicle, a red position light at the back and a red brake light at the back. For the viewing angle, the vehicle must be equipped with a legal rearview mirror mounted on the left side of the vehicle. As for the internal peripherals, it is mandatory to have a functional and efficient braking system well maintained, a speedometer and an original manufacturer’s compliant exhaust system (except for electric vehicles of course). It is important to know that it is forbidden to modify the exhaust system, this could lead to fines that can be quite steep.
When the vehicle is not designed to carry two passengers by the manufacturer, a passenger seat can be added, but you must have a competency card and the appropriate training to be allowed to carry this passenger. The FQCQ and the clubs manage this training. You can contact your regional clubs for more information on training dates.
For side-by-side vehicles, there are of course some differences on the mandatory equipment. A side-by-side vehicle must have a protective frame with at least “two hoops connected by at least two crossbars”. The purpose of this protection is to protect the people in the cabin during a rollover. A vehicle of this weight overturning on a person could easily injure him or her seriously or worse, kill him or her, hence its importance. There must also be “two doors or legal retention nets” for all access to the vehicle. There must be a minimum three-point seat belt for all seats in the vehicle. Speaking of the seats, a headrest of sufficient height must also be present to avoid neck injuries during sudden braking or other accidents. The tires must be legal tires for off-road vehicles and there must be at least one mirror placed in the cockpit, in the center of the protection bar, like the mirrors of a road car.
Power and safety
The purpose of all these obligations is first and foremost, the safety of the people who practice this passion that unites us. As they say, an accident happens so quickly, which is all it takes to be even more careful! Speaking of caution, we live in an era where off-road vehicles are of unlimited power, it is therefore forbidden to have a vehicle of more than 1000cc of power, regardless of the engine or its design. It is also forbidden to modify the vehicle in any way that could make it less safe or more prone to rollovers. Obviously, our off-road vehicles are already monsters that require a great deal of caution, so it is imperative to ensure that the safety of the vehicle remains in place.
Recently, the state has legislated the prosecution of landowners who allow a club to operate off-road vehicles on their land. There will no longer be any legal action at this level. This makes sense because we don’t sue every motorcycle that passes on the road in front of our homes, which by the way, are often much noisier.
In conclusion, the law on off-road vehicles is tedious and complex, not to mention that it changes often, which is why this text is not an official law, but a summary of it, based on the law as it was when it was written. I have tried my best to present to you what I believe to be the important and primary points of driving our off-road vehicles. This passion has been with me since I was very young, I have owned many of these vehicles for years, of many models, types and brands, but they all have one thing in common, they can be very fun and exhilarating for sure, but they can also be deadly. Wishing to end this article on a more positive note, I assure you that all these rules have been put in place with only one concern in mind: your safety, which of course will rhyme with your personal pleasure of riding freely, far away in the forest, doing what you love! Have a good ride and above all, be careful.