Riders' opinions vary on stricter ATV laws

June 28, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

HEDGESVILLE, W.VA. - It's going to be illegal to ride all-terrain vehicles on roads in Berkeley and Jefferson counties beginning Thursday, but the new laws aren't going to change James Nealis' mind.

Nealis, who lives in Tomahawk, W.Va., said he is going to ride on the roads anyway.

Nealis, who has been riding ATVs since he was a kid, said he believes it is safe to ride them on roads if people use common sense and travel the speed limit.

Besides, there are few places to ride ATVs off roads, Nealis said.

"It's either the road or the track," said Nealis, one of a large group of ATV and motorcycle riders who turned out at the Tomahawk Motocross track Sunday for a day of racing.


"I'm not happy with it," Nealis said of the new county ATV laws.

Officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties began considering laws restricting ATV use following steady complaints from local residents about the vehicles being driven on public roads.

In Berkeley County, ATV complaints were number two behind gripes about dogs, Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss said.

Even though an ATV law was passed at the state level earlier this year, officials in Berkeley and Jefferson counties passed more restrictive ordinances.

The state law allows ATVs to be ridden on unlined roads, but officials from Berkeley and Jefferson counties have banned ATV use on all roads.

In Berkeley County, first-time offenders of the law will pay a fine of up to $100 and perform 10 hours of community service; second-time offenders will pay a fine of up to $250 and perform 20 hours of community service; and third-time offenders will pay a fine of up to $1,000 and perform 100 hours of community service.

Jefferson County Commissioner Jane Tabb said she did not know what the penalties would be for violation of the Jefferson County law.

The law refers to a section in state law for penalties, Tabb said.

Although Nealis has started racing his ATV at the 1.2 mile Tomahawk Motocross track, he said it's sometimes inconvenient to pack up his gear and take it to the track off Tomahawk Run Road west of Hedgesville.

Nealis said he thinks an effort should be made to regain the right to ride ATVs on roads.

The other view

Some other ATV riders at Tomahawk Motocross Sunday said they believe county officials did the right thing.

They say ATVs are dangerous when used on roads because they are not designed for such surfaces.

ATV tires are designed to slide in dirt, but when they are used on roads, they are more likely to grip onto to the surface and throw a rider off the vehicle, said longtime ATV rider Jim Ballentine.

"I don't think I would want to hit a car in one," said ATV rider Sean Hott, who said he has never ridden an ATV on roads.

"They shouldn't be on the roads, period," said Hott as he took a break under a tent at the motocross track.

Hott, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said he believes there are a lot of off-road places where ATV riders can go, but riders often will not go to them.

One area where ATVs are allowed is in George Washington National Forest, which is close to Winchester, Va., Hott said.

Fifteen-year-old Blake McIntyre said he thinks the newly passed ATV laws in Berkeley and Jefferson counties are "kind of stupid."

McIntyre, who lives near Tomahawk, said he typically has ridden ATVs on local roads. He said police often will not stop ATV riders on roads if they are not driving recklessly.

But with the new county ATV laws about to go into effect, McIntyre said he probably will be coming to the Tomahawk Motocross track to ride.

Tomahawk Motocross opened about three years ago.

Using the natural contour of the land, the track leads ATV and dirt bike riders on a trail that loops through wooded and open areas.

During a set of races Sunday, ATV riders sped around the course, their loud engines echoing through the facility and kicking up clouds of dust.

Although track owner Chad Gochenour declined to say how many ATV riders regularly come to his track, he said he would like county officials to work with him to promote it as a place to ride and learn how to ride ATVs.

"There's a demand for it around here," Gochenour said, adding that ATV riding is a popular sport in the southern part of the state.

Manufacturers often pay new ATV owners up to $200 to attend safety courses, Gochenour said.

Tomahawk Motocross offers safety courses, although Gochenour said only a small number of people take advantage of them.

On average, Gochenour said about eight riders take the courses, which are offered every two weeks.

Tomahawk Motocross is open every weekend for ATV and dirt bike practice, Gochenour said. Sunday's race was one of about 10 held at the track every year, he said.

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