Lawmakers to consider ATV bills

November 23, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Delegate John Overington has heard the complaints.

He's heard from people who say they've been cut off by someone riding an ATV. He's listened to people who have passed ATVs that were clipping along at a good pace.

He's heard from people who have had property damaged by ATVs.

And he's heard from others, who live in subdivisions, who say people come in with their ATVs in the beds of pickup trucks, unload them and ride them around the neighborhood.

Although the West Virginia Legislature has failed for years to enact an ATV bill, Overington, R-Berkeley, said this time it could be different.


Two ATV bills that have passed in committee and are expected to be presented to the Legislature in January would require all riders under age 18 to wear a helmet, would prohibit ATVs on all paved, public roads and would hold parents responsible for ATV-related incidents involving children.

The first bill, titled the Child Safety ATV Act, could pass with little opposition. A second, which bans ATVs from all paved, public roads, will probably generate more controversy, especially from senators and delegates in southern counties, Overington said.

"They, in many cases, look at four-wheelers as a motor vehicle, as an automobile," Overington said.

The Child Safety ATV Act would require that all children under age 18 who ride an ATV wear a helmet. Unless the machine is specifically designed to carry passengers, they would be prohibited.

Children could not ride ATVs after sunset or before sunrise, unless they were accompanied by an adult. Manufacturers must make sure necessary equipment is in place to prevent fires and excessive noise.

Riders must complete a safety course and could not operate ATVs in a careless or reckless manner, Overington said.

Speeds above 20 mph would be prohibited.

Police chasing someone on an ATV could go onto private land, if necessary. Any ATV rider on private land would need to have written permission from the landowner, Overington said.

Overington added an amendment that, like truancy cases, would hold parents responsible for ATV-related offenses if they knew or should have known their child was riding the ATV.

First-time offenders would be subject to a fine of $50 to $100; second-time offenders could face a fine of $100 to $200; and third-time offenders would face a fine of $200 to $500, Overington said.

Passing such a bill could help reduce the number of ATV-related deaths and injuries, he said.

Statistics compiled by West Virginia University's Center for Rural Emergency Medicine (CREM) show that, from 1990 to 2002, 25 percent of those killed on ATVs in West Virginia were 17 years old or younger.

In September, 13-year-old Paul M. Brown was killed when he hit a utility pole while riding an ATV on Bakerton Road near Harpers Ferry. A 15-year-old boy riding as a passenger was injured seriously.

Most of the others killed on ATVs were between 18 and 49 years old, according to CREM's statistics.

Three weeks after Brown was killed, Michael Smith, 34, of Martinsburg, died when his ATV collided with a pickup truck. Smith had been racing on Arden-Nollville Road with his cousin, who was riding a separate ATV.

After cutting through a field, Smith drove onto the road, lost control of his ATV and collided with the truck. He flew into the air and was killed instantly, according to police.

"ATV legislation is a step in the right direction toward preventing deaths and injuries," said Andrew Fulton, who handles public relations for CREM.

"Most of these (deaths) could have been prevented" if the riders had used common sense, he said.

A helmet can be the difference between whether an ATV rider involved in a crash lives or dies.

"If nothing else in the ATV legislation, start out with a helmet law," Fulton said. "And then, perhaps, build future legislation onto that."

While CREM cannot lobby, Fulton said it makes sure legislators are aware of the number of ATV-related fatalities each year. From 1982 to 2002 in West Virginia, more than 200 people died in ATV wrecks. Another 23 have died so far this year.

Per capita, West Virginia leads the nation in ATV-related deaths, Fulton said.

Of all the lobbyist groups Overington has talked to, few expressed any opposition to the child bill, he said.

The same cannot be said for the second bill.

Some are opposed to banning ATVs from paved, state-maintained roads, Overington said, even though ATVs are not designed to be ridden on paved surfaces.

An exception would be made for those who need to cross over a paved road, as long as they came to a complete stop and yielded to traffic.

The second bill would limit riders to a maximum speed of 25 mph. Other provisions, similar to those in the child bill, include permission for law enforcement officers to enter private land and a requirement that proper mufflers be in place to reduce noise.

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