PRESS EDITORIAL: Off-road ATVs belong off the roads

“Do not drive ATVs on paved roads. ATVs are designed to be driven only on off-road terrain surfaces, not paved roads.” Warning by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Never ride on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.” Warning by ATV Safety Institute.

“Never operate an ATV on any public street, road or highway, even a dirt or gravel one.” Warning to owners by Yamaha Corporation.        If these authorities—the federal agency that monitors product safety, the institute funded by ATV manufacturers to promote safety, and a corporation that is one of the largest producers of ATVs—warn that the vehicles should not be operated on roads, why in the world is the Town of Belgium considering an ordinance that would allow all-terrain vehicles on town and county roads?

The short answer is that members of the Lakeshore ATV/UTV Club asked the Town Board to pass an ordinance that would supersede the state law that makes ATV use on public roads illegal. But there is no good answer—because the ordinance would serve no public good. On the contrary, it would approve a use of recreational vehicles that would be a hazard to operators and a nuisance to others.

Safety is a legitimate concern. More than 700 Americans die and 135,000 are injured each year in ATV accidents, and the Product Safety Commission says 65% of the deaths occur on roads. It is the nuisance factor, however, that is causing a strong push-back, including a petition drive, against the proposed ordinance by town residents.

The ordinance would make it legal for ATVs to travel on all Belgium town roads and on county roads in the town where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.

Most of the town roads are scenic, quiet and lightly traveled, qualities that attracted many families to become residents and taxpayers of the Town of Belgium, and are incompatible with what one resident described as “joy riding” with noisy recreational vehicles meant to be used where regular for-transportation motor vehicles cannot go.

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health classifies ATVs in the same category of 100-decibel noise-makers as motorcycles and boom boxes.

A town resident who lives along Silver Beach Road was quoted in Ozaukee Press pointing out that the ordinance would invite ATV use on that road and others by not just members of the local club, but ATV enthusiasts from all over. This is a valid worry, for not all operators are as responsible as the members of the Lakeshore ATV/UTV club (which has a fine record of public service work). ATVs are capable of going virtually anywhere, and venturing from town roads on to private drives and adjacent properties would surely be a temptation for some operators.

ATVs are popular because they can take owners to places—including hard-to-reach wilderness areas—other vehicles can’t reach. They’re fun and particularly well suited to the geography of  Wisconsin, but they have their place, and it is not on public roads traveled by cars and trucks.

The Belgium Town Board should not be influenced by the fact that the Town of Fredonia recently passed an ordinance allowing ATVs on its roads. That was a mistake that should not be repeated by Belgium. It is misguided public policy to undercut a sensible state statute with an ordinance that answers no need except to please a small number of ATV enthusiasts while having a negative impact on the general town citizenry.

Following a sure-to-be-contentious public hearing this week, members of the Town of Belgium Plan Commission will decide whether the answer will be yes or no to recommending approval of the ordinance. It should be no.


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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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