Bill seeks to limit county authority over ATVs on public roads

The Mesa County commissioners should encourage state Reps. Laura Bradford and Ray Scott to vote against House Bill 1264, by Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, should it come before the full House for a vote.

The legislation is a proposed all-terrain-vehicle licensing and access bill. It has passed the House Transportation Committee and awaits action by the Appropriations Committee.

But Priola’s bill would strip Colorado counties of the authority to regulate which of their roads are open or closed to ATV riders.

It would also create a street-legal ATV category by establishing a one-time, voluntary titling and registration option.

Critics maintain this provision would make it more difficult for federal agencies to limit ATV access points to public lands.

Presently, counties can restrict ATV operation on roads in unincorporated areas.

County commissioners often hold hearings on noise, public safety and neighborhood impacts before road-closing decisions are made. Under the proposed law, all county dirt roads would be required to be open to ATV traffic.

Paved roads with speed limits up to 45 miles per hour would be open unless the county took specific action to close them. No provision is made to close dirt roads, regardless of traffic or impact.

Colorado Counties Inc. opposed the bill after a large number of representatives from mountain counties spoke against it.

The Colorado Municipal League also opposes the bill. The group said it is “a safe streets issue that should be handled by an ‘opt in’ approach rather than ‘opt out.’ “

“The legislation is being driven by a perception that out-of-state OHV drivers are uncertain about which roads they can ride on,” the Colorado Counties resolution reads. “CCI understands the confusion ... but feels that opening up all roads to these vehicles creates far more problems than it solves.”

Chief Rich Brandt of Evans testified against the bill on behalf of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police. He cited the bill’s impact on local governments as a law enforcement problem.

Safety advocates are concerned that HB 1264 will create a dangerous mixture of trucks, autos and all-terrain vehicles ripping along at speeds up to 45 miles per hour on western Colorado roads.

A family drive, bike ride or quiet amble by foot on a country lane would exist only as a nostalgic memory.

But the greatest danger from this law may be to the ATV riders. The All Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute warns riders that, “Research has shown that the vast majority of ATV crashes result from inappropriate use of the product.”

Among the dangers specified by the Safety Institute warning are “riding on public roads, and riding at excessive speeds.”

The U.S. Product Safety Commission also warns, “Never drive an ATV on paved roads.” Warning labels with this language are required on new all-terrain vehicles.

Most law enforcement agencies would probably agree that 45 miles per hour qualifies as “excessive speed” for an ATV.

Recently, a Mesa County deputy sheriff gave pursuit to an ATV going 45 mph through a neighborhood zoned for 20 mph. The patrol car was easily eluded by the more agile ATV.

The deputy says this kind of illegal operation of ATVs is common on the stretch of road he was patrolling.

This irresponsible rider was caught only because he was later arrested on suspicion of an unrelated crime. An observant booking officer connected him to the traffic infraction, and suspicion of eluding, reckless driving and operating an ATV on a public roadway were added to charges against him.

By all accounts, law enforcement got lucky on this one. Most reckless riders who successfully elude the law would not be arrested for unrelated charges and recognized. Most are never caught.

If this bill passes, incidents like that reported in The Daily Sentinel are almost certain to become more common. What is now the practice of a few bad apples will inevitably become more common as thousands of ATVs are unleashed to travel with little or no restrictions on public roads.

As the Mesa County event illustrates, law enforcement already has problems coping with illegal ATV activity. Opening more miles of roads will only exacerbate the problem.

ATVs belong on trails, not urban streets and roads. Reps. Bradford and Scott should help put up a roadblock before this bad law impacts western Colorado counties.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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