PRESS EDITORIAL: Ordinances in search of a reason to exist

Americans generally frown on government enacting needless laws and ordinances. That has not deterred Town Boards in Ozaukee County from drafting ordinances that, like solutions in search of problems, are bereft of reasons to exist.

The Belgium Town Board passed an ordinance Tuesday that would allow ATVs to travel on public roads where they are currently prohibited by state law, and the Port Washington Town Board is poised to do the same.

The Wisconsin Highway Department, public safety authorities and even some ATV manufacturers, as well as the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office, oppose operating the vehicles on public roads, highways and streets because they are designed for off-road use and are considered unsafe for driving on paved surfaces.

ATV stands for all-terrain vehicle. Terrain is the lay of the land, earth and stone surfaces, bumps, depressions, hills, valleys, forests and natural fields. Pavement is not terrain.

 The state allows an exemption from the ban on ATV road use for towns that pass ordinances permitting the vehicles on all town roads and on county and state highways with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Still, the relevant question is—who needs it?

Actually, there are some owners of ATVs and their larger cousins, UTV off-road utility vehicles, who do have a legitimate need to drive the machines on roads. They are the farmers who till their sprawling acres and harvest crops with massive tractors and find it handy to commute to and from fields on all-terrain vehicles without having to drive their wide, slow-moving rigs on roads.

But guess what—that need has already been addressed. ATVs licensed as farm vehicles can legally travel on roads.

Most of the thousands of Wisconsin residents who own ATVs are not farmers, but people who find great recreational enjoyment in tooling around on these remarkably able machines that can go where few other motor vehicles dare venture. ATV off-road adventuring is, for many, a rewarding way to experience the Wisconsin outdoors. This accounts for the enthusiasm of ATV owners such as the 100 members of the Lakeshore ATV/UTV Club, the organization that is pushing for town government approval of road use in Ozaukee County.

But that doesn’t explain why there is a need for ordinances to allow ATVs to leave the environment for which they were designed and join conventional traffic on roads.

Neither the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission nor the ATV industry’s own ATV Safety Institute thinks that’s a good idea.

The CPSC advises: “Even if a locality allows people to drive off-road vehicles on paved public roads, ATVs are not designed for that purpose.” The ATV Safety Institute warns ATV operators: “Never ride on paved roads except to cross. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.”

ATV enthusiasts will point out that with tires designed for pavement, their vehicles are not particularly dangerous for those who operate them on roads. Yet there is a serious safety issue raised by road-use ordinances: They allow children as young as 12 years old to drive ATVs on roads and highways amid car and truck traffic.

The search for a reason—any conceivable reason—to permit ATV road use is so challenging that proponents have had to get creative, as in the claim made at a Town of Belgium meeting that driving ATVs on roads is “a great pastime for the elderly.”

Seriously? Old folks need road-use ordinances so they can mount up and buzz around on their ATVs on town, county and state roads in order to enjoy life? Where are the AARP lobbyists when senior citizens need them to stand up against blatant ageism?

The “elderly” get along quite well doing what other age groups do—walking, running, biking and, when transportation is needed, driving cars. Those who don’t have driver’s licenses are hardly candidates to pilot ATVs on roads.

The ATV initiative in the Town of Belgium has stirred considerable controversy, with strong opposition from homeowners who fear that ATV joy riding, not by the responsible members of the local ATV club, but by visitors attracted to the scenic countryside, will disturb their quiet neighborhoods along town roads.

In the Town of Port Washington, where few roads would qualify for ATV use, the proposed road-use ordinance was supported by a majority of town residents at a public hearing Monday.The Town of Fredonia passed its version of the ordinance with little fuss last year.

Putting ATVs on the roads would likely be an annoyance in some places; they are not as obnoxious as, say, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle modified with extra loud and illegal exhaust pipes, but they are nonetheless gas-burning, pollution-emitting machines that make engine noise classified by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in the same category of 100-decibel noise-makers as legal motorcycles and boom boxes.

That might be tolerable if there were a genuine need for elected representatives to spend their governing time on ordinances to make it permissible by law. But if there is, it hasn’t been discovered yet.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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