W. Va. Grapples with ATV Safety

September 5, 2006

While the number of adult males dying in all-terrain vehicle accidents in West Virginia continues to rise, legislators still think the focus of their safety efforts should be on children.

“In some way, we need to create a culture in West Virginia so young people operating ATVs learn about safety procedures and equipment they could use to protect themselves when riding an ATV,” said state Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia.

Oliverio is co-chairing a legislative interim committee that is looking at whether an ATV safety law passed in 2004 needs to be modified.

“What I hope to come out of this legislative interim process and if necessary the session, is a comprehensive safety training program for young people all across West Virginia,” said Oliverio.

But it’s male riders over the age of 19 that account for 149 of the 225 ATV-related deaths since 2000. West Virginia has had a record 45 ATV deaths this year, and 33 have been males over 19. Per-capita, West Virginia has led the nation in deaths for several years.

In a 2005 survey of 1,200 adult residents, the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center found that at least three in 10 West Virginia households own an ATV, which amounts to about 460,000 ATVs in the state.

The survey also found that about 60 percent of the respondents didn’t know about the ATV safety law lawmakers passed in 2004. However, 83 percent felt safety measures should be in place for young riders.

“There needs to be a coordinated effort so we are not confusing the public,” said Mark Holmes, ATV program manager for the Division of Motor Vehicles. “A lot of people are unaware of the law.”

The law requires riders under the age of 18 to wear helmets, take safety courses and not carry passengers. ATVs are also banned from paved roads with a center line or more than two lanes.

“Before they passed that, unlicensed motor vehicles weren’t allowed on any public road,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

Calling the 2004 law a safety measure is deceitful, Carper said, because the state doesn’t “enforce it and they don’t fund it.”

Kanawha County is one of five — along with Berkeley, Jefferson, Marion and Morgan — to have a countywide ATV ordinance.

The state law gave counties with comprehensive land-use plans the authority to pass local legislation. Kanawha County passed its ordinance, banning ATVs from all public roads, the same day the state law went into effect.

“Why did the legislature decide the county commissioners were so smart we could regulate machines on a public road but nothing else,” Carper said.

Del. Craig Blair said the provision was a way for the legislation to make some restrictions but not put more on counties that didn’t want them.

Blair said he is going to introduce a change to the legislation, giving all counties the opportunity to make tougher restrictions.

“It’s a win-lose situation,” Blair said, R-Berkeley. “Has the law worked, yes, it has in the counties that took it further. Has the law failed, yes, we can see the numbers. We have to allow other counties to move forward, whether they have comprehensive plans or not.”

While legislators seem to like the idea of letting the counties decide, others see major problems with multiple ordinances in the future. At least a dozen cities have also passed their own restrictions.

“I am afraid you are going to get into a situation where you have to know 55 different ordinances,” Holmes said.

Carper said that all the different ordinances create chaos for law enforcement, who are supposed to enforce the law.

“You have got to have clear rules of the road,” Carper said. “That way police have some idea of what they are supposed to do.”

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