Technical bulletins
May 2013

Recreational Motorsports

By Nicolas Rousseau P. Eng., CFEI, CVFI,

Figure 1: ATV accident (photo:

In recent years, we noticed a wave of new enthusiasts for motorized recreational sports, such as snow­mobiling, all-terrain vehicle (ATV), dirt bike or personal watercraft. Indeed, according to the statistics from Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec, over 525,000 off-road vehicles were registered in Quebec in 2010. The explosion in the sales of those vehicles was accompanied by a rapid technological development from the manufacturers. Even if often used as working machines, those vehicles are more used for sports or family fun.

Figure 2: Snowmobiling accident (photo: TVA Nouvelles)

Over the last decade, manufacturers of motorized recreational vehicles competed with cleverness in order to upgrade the technological level of their products. The results are considerable: important decrease in weight, improvement in handling and stability, reduction in fuel consumption, increased performance and engines power, among others. Nowadays, on the market, we find an impressive range of motorized recreational vehicles models that can satisfy any kind of user. Therefore, there are many types of snowmobiles, such as: performance, mountain, luxury, commercial, touring, for children, and much more. This also applies for ATVs, like the ones for touring, of performance, sports, side by side and for children.

Figure 3: Picture from TVA Nouvelles showing an ATV accident

The most popular sites for snowmobiling or practicing ATV are without a doubt the federated trails that crisscross all the regions. An extensive network of trails maintained and marked by clubs and associations sharing the few kilometers of trails. When a driver uses a federated trail, he has to follow some rules to ensure his own safety and the one of the other snowmobilers and quad riders using the same trails. Number of laws and regulations are in effect to regulate the practice of those motorsports. Some regulations are about how to behave when using the trails, the mandatory training of the drivers, the trails signs and markings, and so on. Most of the laws and regulations can be found on the following websites:,,

Moreover, it is possible to learn about the authorized and unauthorized modifications on the mechanical components or the accessories installed on these vehicles.

Figure 4: Matane Motosport destroyed by fire (source: Radio Canada)

Number of people wrongly believe that there is no regulation regarding the off-road driving of their vehicles. And yet, the laws and regulations are applicable and should be followed at all times. According to an article published by The Weather Network regarding snowmobiling, an average of 40% of the snowmobiling accidents are due to loss of control and 27% are due to a collision with another vehicle. These accidents being most of the time ascribable to too high speed, alcohol consumption or drivers' lack of experience. Also, over the last decade, there has been an average of twenty-seven deceased snow­mobilers each year and in 16% of the cases; these deaths are due to drowning. The established speed limit on snowmobiling federated trails is 70 km/h, while the one on quads federated trails is 50 km/h, unless otherwise in both cases. Besides, many neglectful drivers use trails as racing circuits. Such a behavior brings these reckless drivers to expose themselves to serious injuries or to endanger their life and the life of the other users.

Despite the technological development of these vehicles, it must be remembered that no user is protected against incidents, such as vehicle fire, accident resulting from a mechanical failure, control loss related to excessive speed, driver's lack of experience, trails conditions or lack of signs and markings on the trails. Many of these accidents can lead to lawsuits that will have to be settled in court and will require technical investigations. In this regard, several aspects can be analyzed by the experts of CEP Forensic Engineering inc. within the framework of an investigation to determine the cause of an accident. Indeed, in addition to the mechanical examination of the vehicles, there are various methods and techniques of analysis and calculation for the reconstitution of vehicles accidents. These techniques also offer the possibility to establish the parameters of an accident on a scientific base, leaving less space for subjectivity.