Owen County, Indiana’s decision to allow all-terrain vehicles on county roads is raising concerns that drivers won’t install safety equipment or obtain proper registrations and insurance required to make them street legal.
Acting against the advice of their attorney, county commissioners in the mostly rural county about 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis recently passed an ordinance allowing the vehicles, called ATVs, on county roads. The law becomes official if the commissioners sign it as planned at their Dec. 21 meeting.
Among other provisions, the ordinance allows youths 14 and older to drive ATVs on county roads as long as a parent is on board and supervising. Some have raised concerns that teenagers – including those without driver’s licenses – will wind up in unsafe situations.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has said the number of serious injuries and deaths reported for ATV users more than doubled from 1997 to 2007. The agency also has noted more accidents involving children over that period.
Attorney Richard Lorenz noted some people already drive all-terrain vehicles on county roads, but he didn’t support making it legal.
“It scares me because it is almost unenforceable,” he said. “And I worry that the general perception by the public will be that they can just go out and drive these things on the road without the proper registration and payment of fees.”
Owen County has more than 600 miles of roadways, about half of them gravel. Many people who live in the country use all-terrain vehicles to travel to and from neighbors’ and relatives’ homes.
Lorenz said that about 40 Indiana counties have passed similar ordinances allowing ATVs on rural roads. He said he hopes one of the two commissioners who voted “yes” in the 2-1 vote will change his mind.
“These are not designed to be on roadways,” he said.
Commissioner Wiley Truesdel, who voted against the ordinance, said sheriff’s deputies in the past have tried unsuccessfully to regulate the use of ATVs. By the time an officer arrives to investigate complaints, the violator is long gone.
“It’s nothing but trouble,” he said. “We’ve gotten along for years without using them, and people still bend the rules. They’ve been reported, but the sheriff’s department can’t get there.”
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