Should ATVs– those four-wheel, off-road, all-terrain vehicles — be allowed to drive on all of Iowa’s rural roads and highways? That’s the question a legislative committee began considering Monday.
Farmers already have an exemption that lets them drive their ATVs on rural roads and some cities and counties have ordinances which allow ATVs to go on the roads. Representative Brian Moore, a Republican from Bellevue, wants a uniform state law that lets licensed drivers take ATVs on county roads and rural highways.
“I have eight kids. They’ve all ridden on our four-wheelers on our farm,” Moore says. “I’ve had two kids that have had little accidents with them and it’s been in the pastures where one didn’t know there was a little wash-out spot or one didn’t know there was a crick bank.”
Backers of allowing ATVs on all rural roadways argue the state will gain additional revenue from licensing the machines. Jackson County Deputy Sheriff Terry Roling knows a farmer who put 10,000 miles on his ATV last year while his truck stayed in the shed. “People say to me: ‘I would ride my ATV on the roadway and I would register it if I could ride it there, but I’m not, so I’m not registering it,'” Roling told lawmakers.
Backers of allowing ATVs on all rural roadways argue the state will gain additional revenue from licensing the machines. Representative Dwayne Alons, a Republican from Hull, says a South Dakota law that allows off-road vehicles on the roads seems to be working. “I’ve seen the ATVs on the highways in the city of Sioux Falls and have not heard any real big concerns or problems,” Alons says. “There are other aspects to focus on other than the possibility of accidents.”
But the possibility of accidents is the main argument from critics and Iowa’s Department of Transportation opposes the bill. The DOT’s Mark Lowe says the manufacturers seem to be warning against the use of ATVs on the roads and ATVs carry a federally-mandated sticker saying they are not approved for driving on roads. “We currently have a policy in the state of not registering for road use vehicles that don’t meet federal safety standards,” Lowe says.
In addition, Lowe points to a University of Iowa study about deaths among ATV riders. “Since 1998, fatal road crashes are increasing twice as fast as fatal off-road crashes,” Lowe says, “and those road crash victims are likely to suffer severe trauma and three times more likely to suffer traumatic brain injury.”
Gerene Denning, a University of Iowa research scientist, conducted that study. “Basically no matter what you measured, ATV crashes on the road were worse than ATV crashes off the road,” she says, “more fatalities, more head injuries, more severe head injuries.” And, she says, ATV crashes on the road were more likely to lead to the death of a passenger.
A bill to allow ATVs on rural roads passed the Republican-led House during the 2013 legislative session, but stalled in the Democratically-controlled Senate.