Off-road driving remains a popular pastime in Ontario, and ORVs commonly serve as work vehicles in remote locations and farms. Also called all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, this class of motorized transportation has entirely different rules than conventional cars and trucks.

In Ontario, all cars using public roads require certain levels of mandatory insurance. The game changes somewhat where ORVs are concerned, but overall some aspects remain similar. Just as ORVs can go places regular cars can’t, so do the regulations that accompany them.

However, ORVs are not free of rules and regulations. Anyone who says otherwise is mistaken. There are rules for ages, equipment and sobriety. Vehicles are registered and in many cases insured. Road use, speed and access all have regulations and restrictions. Drivers are liable for damage they cause. An ORV driver needs a regular driver’s license in some circumstances. ORV driving is not an activity that’s free of rules or consequences, since vehicle use affects other people.

Despite these rules and regulations, ORVs have more freedom than regular cars and trucks. Let’s look at some of the aspects of driving ORVs in Ontario.

What does off road mean?

“Off Road” refers to a vehicle operating anywhere that is not a public road, thoroughfare or highway. It may be privately owned land, a trail system or Crown-owned property. Vehicles commonly used for off road purposes could include motorcycles and snowmobiles, as well as the class of vehicles falling under the description of Off Road Vehicles.

These include:

  • Single rider all terrain vehicles (ATVs): a four wheeled vehicle with steering handle bars, upon which a single driver straddles the vehicle. This class carries no passengers.
  • Two up all terrain vehicles: a four wheeled vehicle with steering handle bars, and a single seat immediately behind the straddled driver, with separate foot rests for the passenger.
  • Side by side off road vehicles (ORVs): a vehicle with four or more wheels as well as a steering wheel. There is seating for passengers beside and/or behind the driver, with seat belts in all positions and a rollover protection system such as a roll cage.
  • Utility terrain vehicles (UTVs): carries the same specifications as the side by side ORV, as well as a cargo box with a minimum capacity of 159 kilograms.

Source: Smart Ride Safe Ride brochure, MTO publication

Rules and Restrictions

There are some general rules and restrictions that apply to these vehicles. For example, passengers may not be younger than 8 years old, and even then their legs must reach foot rests provided. Drivers of these vehicles during off road use must be at least 12 years of age, though they can be younger when under the supervision of an adult. However, these drivers cannot cross a public road until they are at least 16 and have a valid motor vehicle license. All drivers and passengers, regardless of age, must wear a motorcycle helmet that’s securely fastened, at all times when aboard an ATV or ORV.

ATVs and ORVs require registration, a copy of which the driver must carry while operating the vehicle. The vehicle must also display a rear licence plate. There are some exceptions to this, primarily for vehicles used in the far north of the province. ATVs and ORVs must have insurance coverage under a motor vehicle liability policy.

Do I need different car insurance for off-road vehicles?

off road vehicle

In many cases ORVs list on an owner’s personal auto insurance policy. Not all insurance companies offer ORV coverage, but many do and often include discounts for listing multiple vehicles. Owners can buy standalone insurance for an ORV if their auto insurer does not offer coverage.

Much like auto insurance, the most important aspect of coverage deals with liability protection — insurance for when the driver causes damage or injury to other people or property. The provincial requirement for ORV insurance is simply for liability protection. Since most owners consider their ATVs and ORVs a significant investment, insurance companies provide other coverage to reduce the owner’s exposure to loss.

Searching the websites of insurance companies offering ORV coverage in Ontario shows that these forms of protection are readily available:

  • Property damage liability: for accidents causing damage to the property of others
  • Personal injury liability: for accidents causing injury or death to others
  • Accident benefits: compensation for medical care and rehabilitation expenses beyond OHIP, as well as loss of income protection
  • Collision coverage: pays for repairs and replacement when the owner’s ORV has an accident
  • Comprehensive coverage: pays for repairs and replacement for non-collision damage, such as a fire, vandalism or theft

Will insurance cover off road damage or accidents?

Yes, provided the owner buys the proper coverage. It’s up to the owner to determine the limits of coverage and protection that their insurer offers. There may be some major differences between policies for ORVs and those of regular vehicles. Every insurance company operating in Ontario has significant discretion when creating its insurance products. While these get reviewed and approved by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, provisions and procedures vary greatly between insurers.

For example, while the concept of wear and tear may be similar between ORV and regular auto insurance, in practice ORV use may result in wear and tear that’s extreme. For example, dents in body panels resulting from rocks or rollovers in off road environments may be considered as regular use by an insurance company.

Insurance investigations after an accident for which a claim gets filed may be quite different than after an automobile collision. In the case of regular vehicles, accidents compare to a set of scenarios called fault determination rules, part of Ontario’s no fault auto insurance provisions. This is not the case for ORV accidents, so insurance investigators may be more aggressive when following up on an off road accident. If dangerous handling or other negligent use shows up, the insurance company may have grounds to deny claim settlement.

While there’s no indication that this is a widespread problem, due diligence by ORV owners is prudent when insurance shopping.