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October 14 2002 - Lawmakers pushing ATV regulations
Consensus is building for lawmakers to ban the use of all-terrain vehicles on pavement, but a West Virginia University study shows that only about one-third of ATV fatalities in the state occur on highways or other paved surfaces. The study by WVU’s Center for Rural Emergency Medicine shows that many more accidents occur off-road, and lawmakers, as well as, lobbyists are far less willing to limit use of the vehicles on private property. The push to regulate the popular vehicles has come after 17 deaths and many injuries this year in ATV accidents. Even Senate Transportation Chairman Mike Ross, D-Randolph, who has opposed some ATV bills in past legislative sessions, has said he would strongly support a bill to keep ATVs off of highways. What he doesn’t want are any laws that would interfere with ATV use by farmers, surveyors and people like himself in the oil and gas industry.
Leff Moore, a lobbyist for the West Virginia Recreational Vehicle Association, said ATVs should be simply banned from all paved surfaces because they’re not designed for it. Their balloon-like tires are meant to mold themselves to rough terrain for traction, not operate on smooth surfaces, he said. According to Sam Love, lobbyist for the West Virginia Motorcycle and ATV Dealers Association, banning their use on paved highways would address only part of the problem, and that would in itself be going too far. He said many dealers believe ATVs should be allowed on many back roads, even those that may be paved.
Even the most avid supporters of increased regulation agree that government’s ability to control activities on private property is limited, despite the fact that’s where the majority of ATV accidents occur. “That’s a real area of contention, but I don’t think you should say the Legislature should abandon it,” said Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, a leading advocate of ATV regulation. Oliverio has been trying for several years to get a reluctant Legislature to regulate ATVs, is pushing four basic concepts: Requiring helmets on riders 16 years old and younger, outlawing ATVs from paved surfaces, discouraging the hauling of passengers and keeping younger riders off of bigger machines.
Even if the regulations the Legislature would pass don’t fully extend to private property, they could still affect West Virginians’ behavior by making them more awareof ATV safety issues, Oliverio said. Moore, who agreed with that point, said that one reason West Virginia has been leading the nation in ATV deaths per capita is that, as one of only five states without regulations on the vehicles, it has had “no ethic in society” to promote ATV safety. Establishing some law on ATV regulation would go a long way to promote safety even in off-road use, he said.But Moore believes lawmakers could make ATV regulations apply on private property. “We do it all the time,” he said, with laws that prohibit spotlighting deer by hunters, dynamiting of fish, illegal trapping and open burning during certain hours in fire season. “There are very few people who yell about regulations on hunting and fishing, because we grew up with that ethic,” said Moore, who represents manufacturers and dealers of not only ATVs but also other types of recreational vehicles.
But Love said the dealers he represents oppose a law that would be “a broad sweep hitting responsible and irresponsible riders.” Manufacturers already recommend against such practices as riding double on ATVs, he said, but it’s a common practice in West Virginia and he knows of groups of older adult riders who do it safely. Love also said dealers won’t sell ATVs with engines bigger than 50 cubic centimeters to anyone under age 14 or ATVs with engines bigger than 90 cubic centimeters to anyone under 16, but they can’t do anything about it if adults allow younger teens to use bigger ATVs. “Some of the responsibility has to be on the parents,” he said.
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