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  • Last modified 8 days ago (July 23, 2021)

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It’s time to civilize the beasts . . .

Our community can take justifiable pride in how it has come together to benefit one of its own after a devastating Fourth of July accident involving a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle.

The same fervor and compassion now are needed to get behind an equally important cause: enacting and enforcing safety standards to lessen the likelihood of future tragedies.

Their name says it all: Off-road vehicles aren’t designed for streets and roads.

Nationwide, more than half of all serious accidents involving off-road vehicles occur when they are driven where they aren’t intended to be.

Steering to avoid a pothole or washboard road may be a relatively easy task in a car or pickup designed for that task. With stubby tires, a turbocharged engine, and four-wheel drive that engages only when rear wheels slip, high-powered ATVs can easily be put in harm’s way by a modest attempt to jog around a road hazard. An off-road vehicle’s freewheeling front tires are much quicker to slide sideways, encouraging the vehicle to overturn because of its high center of gravity.

Add to this the temptation of wanting to show off the power of an expensive new toy, which often costs more than most people pay for cars, and you have a recipe for disaster, especially if drivers aren’t hyper-attentive because their judgment or reaction have been impaired by alcohol or too many hours in a hot sun.

These aren’t golf carts sputtering along with slow-moving-vehicle signs on their rear. These are dragsters with nowhere near the safety precautions required in organized drag races.

Whether we’re talking about riding lawnmowers, golf carts, go-karts, ATVs, or side-by-sides, if they are to be driven on streets and roads, off-road vehicles should be restricted to the shortest path to whatever off-road course they are being taken to traverse.

Building a public course for such vehicles at the county lake or reservoir, along a golf course, or adjacent to a sports complex would provide another tourism lure for the area and a space designed to create exhilaration without many of the dangers present on streets and roads.

In many regards, a public ATV course would be no different than a public boat ramp or public airport.

Safety requirements would need to be strictly enforced both there and en route to such a facility. Six-point harnesses, not just normal seat belts, should be required and used at all times on vehicles capable of more than modest speed.

Helmets, goggles, and protective clothing also should be required. Passengers, especially kids, should be limited to areas with designated seating. Kids not old enough to drive should be restricted from riding the highest-powered vehicles. And a strict speed limit — 20 mph — should be enforced on all streets and roads.

Money to pay for an off-road course and for enforcing safety regulations there and on streets and roads could come from license fees and personal property taxes, especially if licensing a vehicle caused it to be reported automatically, as cars, trucks, and motorboats are, to the county appraiser’s office.

To ensure that operators are fully familiar with safe operation, we also should consider requiring ATV endorsements on driver’s licenses, just as we do with those wanting to operate motorcycles.

Personally, we never plan to ride any of these vehicles. We get our adrenalin rush from things other than amusement park rides, jet skis, motorcycles, or ATVs. But we understand others enjoy the rush. We simply want to make sure they enjoy it as safely as possible and not treat high-powered vehicles as if they were items of personal liberty in some modern re-creation of the uncivilized Wild West.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 23, 2021

 

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