Two tragic accidents this past week involving all-terrain and off-road utility vehicles are refocusing attention on safety as well as efforts to allow utility vehicles on city streets and county roads. David Downing of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says sales of ATVs and ORVs — the short-hand for “off-road utility vehicles” — are growing rapidly.

“You’re seeing more and more of those vehicles and as the counties start to open up their roads and city jurisdictions open up their roads for ATVs and ORVs, obviously there’s more interaction with motor vehicles and all kinds of other things,” he says, “so people need to be aware of that.”

On Saturday, four 14-year-old boys were killed when the utility vehicle they were riding in was hit by a pick-up truck that ran a stop sign near Epworth. Two nine-year-old boys died in an A-T-V accident Monday on a farm near Mount Vernon. Representative Curt Hansen, a Democrat from Fairfield who taught driver’s ed for 43 years, urges Iowans to take the safety courses that are available.

“They don’t handle like a vehicle designed for roadway use and so there’s a lot of limitations that people have to realize,” Hansen says.

Downing’s agency offers an ATV safety course.

“You can take the class online. It’s available 24 hours a day or you can take a hands-on class,” Downing says. “There’s also the ATV Safety Institute, which you get a certificate back from them, the manufacturers, when you purchase an ATV, then you’re able to take the course free of charge.”

Downing says ATV drivers have to learn how to shift their weight to balance the machine as it moves. Representative Hansen says he worries about the larger, off-road utility vehicles that have bench seats.

“They’re almost golf carts on steroids,” Hansen says. “They’re just very, very fast and the vulnerability increases with the increase in speed.”

Four-wheel ATVs may be driven on rural roads and county highways today if they’re being used for farming. Some local city and county ordinances also allow ATVs, golf carts and other off-road utility vehicles on local roads, but the operator has to be a licensed driver, the vehicle can’t go more than 35 miles an hour and the hours of operation are limited to between sunrise and sunset.

A bill that would have allowed ATVs and off-road utility vehicles on every rural road and county highway in Iowa passed the House this spring, but stalled in the Senate. Representative Brian Moore, a Republican from Bellevue who has been pushing for the legislation, says it only would have applied to Iowans who are above the age of 16 who have a valid drivers license.

“Of course, you get stuff out on the road, four-wheelers and ATVs and more traffic out on the road, there’s going to be a risk,” Moore says. “There’s a risk on bicycles. There’s a risk on walking.”

Moore says he doesn’t plan to introduce the bill again in 2014 unless there are major changes in the make-up of the state senate and he determines the bill could pass the the senate.