Dubuque County Supervisors forming ATV/UTV review committee

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DUBUQUE COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors is forming a review committee to research the possibility of allowing All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Vehicles (UTVs) on county roads. There is currently a ban on driving these vehicles on county roads.

People ride their ATVs on private property in Dubuque County on Friday, March 2, 2018

Proponents say allowing the vehicles would be fun and economically beneficial, while others call it a dangerous idea. Many cite a deadly crash in the county in August 2014 when four teenage boys were killed on a UTV when a driver ran a stop sign on a county road near Epworth.

More recently, on Sunday, September 9, a Bernard woman named Sarah Bennet died when the ATV she was on crashed into a tree.

Supervisor Jay Wickham said the board has received a lot of feedback from the public in favor of an ordinance that would allow ATVs on county roads.

"We thought it was a good opportunity to get the groups together and try to understand both the pro and con of the issue," Wickham said.

There are certainly people who feel strongly on both sides of the issue.

ATV owner and advocate Ron McCarthy believes the vehicles are safe.

"I know how safe they are with having the roll bars and the safety belts and all the other safety equipment that they have," McCarthy said.

He also thinks county roads are a safe place to drive them because there isn't a lot of traffic.

McCarthy said, "I know the amount of traffic that the county roads get and I know that for the majority of the day they’re pretty much not used.”

There is also an economic benefit to opening up the roads to these vehicles, McCarthy argues. He said many riders will go on group trips in other counties and states, stopping at restaurants, buying gas and staying in hotels.

"My wife and I go for a weekend, we’ll easily spend $400 to $600 on a weekend," McCarthy said. He believes that money would be better spent in Dubuque County.

However, Sheriff Joe Kennedy strongly disagrees.

"We’re not here for economic development, we’re not here to, you know, see any kind of growth in the tourism industry. We’re here for public safety," Kennedy said.

In fact, he believes stopping at restaurants can make the vehicles even more dangerous.

Kennedy explained, "our belief is their intention is to drive from bar to bar and drink and party it up.”

Wickham said the board hopes to get a mix of people on the committee: those in favor of ATVs, people against, law enforcement officials and even economic development leaders. However, Kennedy said he will not participate in this committee.

"We don’t want to be complicit in the passing of an ordinance," Kennedy said. "We want to protect the sheriff’s department from any potential liability.”

Wickham recognizes the safety concerns and said it's a top priority for him.

"If there’s any consideration for having ATVs/UTVs on the road, we’ll look at those safety features and those will be very high on my list if there was any type of allowance," he said.

McCarthy and other advocates presented the supervisors with a draft ordinance that outlines safety precautions.

Those include, "16 years and older with a valid drivers license, 16 to 18 year old would need to have passed a UTV safety course, need to have proof of insurance," McCarthy explained.

He argues an ordinance that allows ATVs and UTVs and mandates safety measures would actually benefit riders.

"If people are educated and if people follow the law as we proposed, these types of incidences will be avoided," he said, referencing the deadly ATV accidents that have happened in the county.

McCarthy plans to apply for the review committee and looks forward to more discussion.

Supervisors will accept applications until October 4. Then they will choose 15 members.

Wickham said the committee will present their findings to the board before the end of the year.