PRESS EDITORIAL: The worrisome traffic mix on once-rural roads

These are exciting times for personal transportation. Thanks to leaping technology, roads now can be traveled by plug-in electric cars, hybrid electric and gas powered cars, motor vehicles with computer operated engines, brakes and suspensions, automobiles that can virtually drive and park themselves or automatically make emergency stops or nudge the vehicle back into the proper lane when the driver is slow to react, vehicles with backup cameras and sophisticated information systems as standard equipment and . . . little four-wheeled machines more closely related to garden tractors than the cars and trucks with which they share the roads.
    What’s wrong with this picture? If those machines known as ATVs seem out of place, it’s because they are in the wrong place when they’re on paved roads. That hasn’t slowed the burgeoning fad among Wisconsin town governments to make it legal for these vehicles designed for off-road use to be driven on paved public roads.
    In Ozaukee County, the Town of Fredonia and Town of Belgium have enacted ordinances allowing ATVs and their larger cousins, UTVs, on their roads. The Town of Port Washington is poised to do the same and is urging the Town of Saukville to follow suit.
    The Town Boards have been asked to do this by ATV enthusiasts, and it’s a fine example of local government being responsive to constituents. But it doesn’t square with this:
    “ATVs are not designed for on-road use. Consumer and public health advocates and industry agree that ATVs should not be used on roads, yet the majority of ATV deaths occur on roads.”
    That statement, published by the Consumer Federation of America, echos warnings from numerous other sources, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and ATV manufacturers like Kawasaki (“never operate an ATV on any paved surface”) and Yamaha (“always avoid operating an ATV on any paved surface”).
    No one is saying the towns’ accommodation to ATV enthusiasts constitutes an imminent menace to society, but it does raise some safety concerns. Roughly two-thirds of ATV deaths happen on paved roads. For good measure, as Town of Saukville Plan Commission member Todd Korb aptly put it in opposing ATVs on his town’s roads, “Adding one more small, less visible vehicle on the road adds an unnecessary risk on our town roads.”
    If road safety has to be compromised, it at least ought to be for a better reason than just having fun. Perhaps with that in mind, town officials have said ATV owners should be able to use town roads for travel to shops or restaurants, adding that this is a particular benefit for senior citizens. Supporters of a Port-Saukville ATV town road connection say it is needed so that Port ATV users can visit business places in Saukville.
    All of which begs the question: Why not drive a motor vehicle meant for road use for this transportation as most people do?
    The presence of ATVs adds to a growing clash of automobile traffic with other users of rural roads in Ozaukee County. As areas that were once part of the agricultural countryside become more developed, fast-moving car and truck traffic is increasing on the same roads that are popular with bicyclists, runners and walkers (some with children in strollers and dogs on leashes).
    Speed limits on these roads are routinely ignored and many drivers do not offer pedestrians and bikers the courtesy and sensible safety gesture of moving over to pass. Near misses and angry confrontations have resulted. The Sheriff’s Office and county highway officials need to do more to avoid worse results. That doesn’t get any easier with ATVs in the mix.
    Though ATV road-use permission applies only to town roads and the vehicles remain illegal on other public roads, it is reasonable to assume some ATV traffic will end up on connecting county highways.
    In defense of ATVs, there is a good reason for their popularity (1.27 million sold in 2020 alone). With their ability to scoot over rough natural terrain, they provide lots of enjoyment by taking their drivers and passengers over hill and dale, particularly in the beautiful Wisconsin outdoors.
    That’s why they’re called off-road vehicles.

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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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