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W.Va. considers regulating ATVs

January 25, 2001

W.Va. considers regulating ATVs



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Faced with the highest all-terrain vehicle death rate in the nation, two Eastern Panhandle state legislators will join with other lawmakers considering legislation to regulate the vehicles.

"We need to balance having fun with being safe and not annoying everyone," said state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, chairman of a joint committee of senators and delegates researching the issue. "We will find that balance."

"There's a number of issues related to ATVs," said state Rep. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, who is on the joint committee. "And it's our job as legislators to keep our roads safe."

ATVs are usually four-wheeled vehicles used in wooded or rural areas. Snyder and Faircloth said a license isn't required to drive them, they are not licensed or registered, don't require the rider to wear a helmet and often lack such items as a horn and lights.

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West Virginia's 127 ATV-related deaths over the last 10 years led the nation, said Dr. James Helmkamp, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University.

Snyder said he was astonished to learn that that police officers may be prohibited from stopping the ATVs if they are traveling on the interstate. An attorney general's opinion from 10 years ago indicates that the vehicles may be free from most regulations because they are not cars, he said.

House Speaker Robert Kiss, D-Raleigh, and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, have requested an updated opinion.

The issue has come before the West Virginia Legislature before, usually focusing on the high death rate. As lawmakers studied the subject, issues such as the use of the ATVs on paved roads, helmets, insurance, registration and others were batted around, Snyder said.

Both lawmakers agreed the issue is touchy - people who own the machines don't like the government restricting them - and both said they don't want to overregulate them.

"They don't want us to do much with them," Faircloth said. "But other people hear them and don't like to put up with the noise."

"Everybody is tired of government regulation," Snyder said. "But this is a health and safety issue."

Faircloth has proposed a bill outlawing use of the machines on highways for a year while all the other issues are sorted out.

Snyder predicted a bill will pass to forbid use of the ATVs on the highway. How many other issues will be included on a possible bill is less easy to say, he said.

"The more items you add, the more contentious the bill becomes," he said. "We not only have the highest death rate among ATV users, we probably have the highest number of users, as well."

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