ATV Bill on Legislative Road to Nowhere

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Senate Ways and Means Committee likely will mark the end of the road this session for legislation that would allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to be licensed to operate on secondary roads in Iowa.

Committee chairman Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Tuesday that safety and other concerns raised about provisions of House File 619 have increased the likelihood that he will not bring the issue before his Senate panel in the waning weeks of the 2013 legislative session.

"It's got some major hurdles to get over," Bolkcom said in an interview.
"There have been a significant number of concerns raised about the injury rate of ATV riders on roads. They're not designed to be driven on roads -- at least that's what the manufacturers tell us," he added. "I think it has some significant challenges to move forward."

House File 619 would allow "road-ready" ATVs with four or more wheels and equipped with front and rear lights, mirrors and turn signals to be driven by operators aged 16 years or older on some hard-surface or gravel roads once they were registered and licensed by the state Department of Transportation. The annual registration fee would be $50.

The measure, which passed the Iowa House 75-22 on April 8, provides that an all-terrain vehicle registered with the DOT may be operated on secondary roads but not on primary highways -- except to cross over a primary highway -- and not on highways within the corporate limits of a city except where ATVs are permitted by ordinance.

Researchers at the University of Iowa report that ATV roadway crashes have occurred throughout the state, including in Iowa's cities. More than half of the deaths from ATV crashes occur on the roads, both in Iowa and nationwide, and one victim out of four was under the age of 16, according to studies done by Drs. Charles Jennissen and Gerene Denning in the UI College of Medicine.

Also, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a national not-for-profit trade association representing ATV manufacturers and distributors, has issued a statement emphasizing that ATVs are "not designed, manufactured or in any way intended for use on public streets, roads or highways and urges that on-highway use of ATVs be prohibited and that law enforcement efforts be strengthened to eliminate this dangerous practice."

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, a key backer, acknowledged the bill has "sticking points" that need to be "polished" before it is ready to head to the governor's desk. But he said the intent is not to promote on-road ATV use as much as it is to encourage tourism in rural Iowa by establishing ATV trails for organized rides that require access to some roads.

"I'm trying to get some tourism for my neck of the woods," he said.

Bowman also acknowledged that ATVs are dangerous, but he added "motorcycles are dangerous, cars can be very dangerous -- using the vehicle in a safe manner is probably the biggest key there and that comes through some proper education and training on how to maneuver the thing and using the right speed."

He noted that the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa also is dangerous and has resulted in deaths, but precautions have been taken to make it a safe activity for most participants.

H.F. 619 specifies that a licensed operator of an all-terrain vehicle must carry proof of motor vehicle financial liability coverage. Current speed limits apply to all-terrain vehicles operated on a highway, except that an all-terrain vehicle may not be operated at a speed exceeding 45 miles per hour.

Currently, Iowa law defines an "all-terrain vehicle" as a motor vehicle designed to travel on three or more wheels and designed primarily for off-road recreational use. The definition includes off-road utility vehicles, but excludes farm tractors or equipment, construction equipment, forestry vehicles, and lawn and grounds maintenance vehicles.

All-terrain vehicles – currently regulated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources -- are not permitted on Iowa roads, except under limited circumstances such as farmers using ATVs on county roads to move from farm to farm.

Currently, a person who operates an all-terrain vehicle on a highway in violation of current restrictions commits a simple misdemeanor punishable by a scheduled fine of $50. H.F. 619 establishes the same penalty for a person who operates a registered all-terrain vehicle in violation of minimum age and licensing requirements or on a highway where ATV operation is not authorized.
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