Uniform statewide rules for operation of all-terrain and other off-road motor vehicles make some sense. But if state lawmakers decide to go that route, we hope they don’t allow ATVs to travel on Iowa’s secondary roads.
Some ATV enthusiasts pushing for the right to run on those roads note that cities and counties already can allow operation of ATVs on local routes they designate. They are pressing for uniform statewide rules that would provide shared liability for local jurisdictions and eliminate situations where a legal activity becomes illegal at a county line. They also point out that Iowa could raise more road repair money by licensing and collecting registration fees for ATVs and there could be economic benefits from more tourism spurred by expanded recreation opportunities.
Certainly, the state has a severe shortfall in road-maintenance funding. And who wants to see 99 or more different sets of rules.
But allowing ATVs to run on roads with cars and trucks? If safety is important — and of course it is — that sounds like a bad idea.
ATVs are designed for off-road use, with a higher center of gravity and narrow wheel bases — not so great for traveling at high speed on roads. Iowa reported 149 ATV deaths from 1982 through 2011, according to the latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics. Meanwhile, during that same period, a troubling national trend emerged: Even though overall ATV deaths have declined in recent years, deaths of people using ATVs on public roads increased ninefold.
The three-wheel versions of ATVs were so dangerous that the industry stopped making them in the late 1980s. The four-wheelers are more stable, and can certainly be operated safely when they are used properly by trained drivers.
But they don’t belong on public highways. The CPSC strongly advises against driving them on any paved road. If state legislators get serious about ATV legislation, they should consider the public safety impact first.
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