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Safety group asking Renville County to reconsider opening roads to ATVs

OLIVIA — An informal coalition working to prevent All Terrain Vehicle injuries is asking the Renville County board of commissioners to re-consider a proposal to open all of the county’s roads to the vehicles for recreational use.

“It’s a life and death issue,’’ said Dr. Gerene Denning, director of emergency medical research at the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

She warns that Renville County is likely to see an increase in fatal accidents and injuries if it opens its roads to recreational use by ATVs. The group does not oppose their operation on roads for work-related uses.

Denning and colleague Dr. Charles Jennissen, a pediatric trauma specialist, outlined the risks of opening the roads to ATVs in correspondence addressed to the county board of commissioners this week from the ATV Injury Prevention Taskforce. They were responding to news that the county is looking to adopt an ordinance that would allow ATVs, mini-trucks, utility task vehicles, and motorized golf carts access to all county roads if they obtain a county-issued permit.

Denning said the risk of death is 100 to 1,000 times higher for an ATV than for an automobile per mile driven on roadways.

ATVs are not designed for road use. They have a higher center of gravity and low pressure tires that increase the risks for tipping over or losing control when used on paved surfaces, according to information provided by the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

The SVIA represents ATV manufacturers and dealers in the county. It has joined in issuing a position statement indicating that the ATV manufacturing industry is opposed to on-road use of the vehicles.  “Permitting street use of ATVs, including modified ATVs, would be in conflict with manufacturers’ intentions for their proper use, and would be contrary to federal safety requirements,’’ the Institute stated.

Denning said the safety campaign was organized in response to a growing number of cases where counties are looking at opening roads to ATVs. It responds to reports across the country when ordinances are proposed such as Renville County is now considering.

She said six Iowa counties have opened their roads to ATVs. There is also bill before the Iowa Legislature to open county roads throughout the state to ATVs. She said the group is hopeful of blocking the state legislation.

Many of those seeking to open roads to ATVs argue that it will boost tourism, said Denning. She said any increase in revenue will be more than offset by the tremendous costs that result from the greater number of fatalities and injuries –many of them permanent - that will follow.

There are more ATVs fatalities on roads than off-road. Denning said the three greatest risk factors for adult ATV crashes are use on the roads, carrying passengers, and intoxicated drivers.

Minnesota recorded 11 Class I ATV fatalities in 2013, of which seven occurred on roadways, according to information compiled by the state.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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