New ATV law may put riders on the skids

Bill No. 120725, which was passed by City Coun­cil Oct. 25, will al­low po­lice to con­fis­cate and des­troy all-ter­rain vehicles, and hit own­ers with up to $2,000 in fines.

Of­ficer John Lordan of the 7th Po­lice Dis­trict in North­east Phil­adelphia, works de­tail that gets il­leg­al mo­tor bikes off the road in­clud­ing Dirt bikes, ATV’s and un­re­gistered mo­tor bikes. ATV’s in Pennypack­er Park have be­come a prob­len in re­cent years.

Many Phil­adelphi­ans have had ter­ri­fy­ing close calls when they turn a corner to find one of their neigh­bors bar­rel­ing down the street rid­ing a three- or four-wheeled all-ter­rain vehicle or mini bike straight at them.

Po­lice stepped up ef­forts in re­cent months to chase down and tick­et these il­leg­al ATV riders, but they wer­en’t al­lowed to fol­low riders in­to wooded areas or set up road­b­locks to stop them. The max­im­um fine was $200 and im­pound­ment, which means many ATVs were even­tu­ally re­turned to scofflaw own­ers.

Now, stiffer city laws will em­power po­lice to con­fis­cate and des­troy ATVs as well as en­able of­ficers to slap some own­ers with $2,000 fines.

City Coun­cil­wo­man Blondell Reyn­olds Brown in­tro­duced the meas­ure, Bill No. 120725, on be­half of the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion, and it passed Oct. 25. There was a four-hour pub­lic hear­ing on the bill in early Oc­to­ber. The coun­cil­wo­man said the law would take ef­fect in March.

“Two thou­sand dol­lars is steep, really steep,” Chris Mar­tin, 40, a Lawn­crest res­id­ent and flea mar­ket vendor who is a lifelong ATV rider, said of the new reg­u­la­tions. “And con­fis­cat­ing and des­troy­ing them? It should be a tick­et. What’s the fine for rid­ing a horse down the street?”

But Mar­tin agreed that the city should have stiffer ATV laws.

“If some jack­ass is rid­ing down the street boogy­ing around at 90 miles per hour and there’s people in the way, they should be held re­spons­ible,” he said.

The pub­lic threat from ATVs and mini-bikes is real. Data col­lec­ted by the U.S. Con­sumer Product Safety Com­mis­sion shows that 521 deaths were re­cor­ded in Phil­adelphia between 1982 and 2010 as a res­ult of ATVs, and between 1998 and 2006, 105 of those deaths were chil­dren young­er than 16.

“Philly is tak­ing a gi­ant step for­ward by be­gin­ning to ap­ply ex­ist­ing laws,” said Dick Lepley, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Pennsylvania Off-High­way Vehicle As­so­ci­ation, which sup­ports the new le­gis­la­tion.

However, Lepley poin­ted out that en­for­cing the new law will be the real test.

“If en­force­ment had taken place years ago, we might not be deal­ing with this prob­lem now,” Lepley said. “The last thing Philly needs is to have a dra­coni­an ord­nance that can’t be en­forced.”

It already was il­leg­al to ride ATVs or mini-bikes on pub­lic streets and side­walks. But parts of the River Wards were still pop­u­lar loc­a­tions for il­leg­al ATV rid­ing. Star pre­vi­ously re­por­ted on a po­lice crack­down this sum­mer that led to 100 ATVs be­ing con­fis­cated, but many own­ers were able to pay the fines, re-pur­chase their ATVs at a po­lice auc­tion, and pos­sibly re­turn to dan­ger­ous ATV rid­ing.

The new law is con­sid­er­ably stiffer. ATVs found in il­leg­al op­er­a­tion on pub­lic streets and side­walks can be con­fis­cated, or own­ers can be fined $2,000 if they can prove their vehicles are worth more than $2,000. Ad­di­tion­ally, au­thor­it­ies can dis­pose of the ATVs by de­struc­tion or oth­er means that pre­vent them from re­turn­ing to the streets.

Tom Yager, vice pres­id­ent of the ATV Safety In­sti­tute, based in Irvine, Cal­if., hailed the new law as a pos­it­ive step.

“The real op­por­tun­ity is the city’s in­terest in de­vel­op­ing a leg­al rid­ing area,” Yager said. “People won’t ride ATVs in il­leg­al areas when there are leg­al ones.”

Coun­cil­wo­man Reyn­olds Brown has in­dic­ated that she sup­ports the idea of set­ting up a pub­lic ATV rid­ing park in Phil­adelphia where ATV and mini-bike riders can safely en­joy all-ter­rain rid­ing.

“This is step one in a mul­tistep pro­cess,” Reyn­olds Brown said in her press re­lease an­noun­cing the new law.  “First, we have to get a handle on pub­lic safety, giv­ing po­lice the en­force­ment tools they need to crack down on what re­mains an il­leg­al activ­ity—rid­ing ATVs in our pub­lic side­walks, streets and parks … [Then] we are com­mit­ted to sit­ting down with ATV en­thu­si­asts for whom rid­ing is a fun, re­cre­ation­al activ­ity, and those in the private sec­tor who see an op­por­tun­ity for a safe and prof­it­able busi­ness ven­ture.”

But in cash-strapped Phil­adelphia, it’s any­one’s guess wheth­er park space or fund­ing can be found to set up a safe, leg­al ATV rid­ing arena.

In Egg Har­bor Town­ship, N.J., a sim­il­ar prob­lem was re­solved by set­ting up “Ready to Ride,” a fam­ily ori­ented ATV, dirt bike and go-kart rid­ing fa­cil­ity, which is op­er­ated by the Egg Har­bor Town­ship Po­lice Ath­let­ic League.

Na­tion­al Youth Pro­ject Us­ing Min­ibikes (NY­PUM), an or­gan­iz­a­tion fun­ded by Honda, also sets up safety train­ing courses in vari­ous loc­a­tions around the coun­try to teach teens and young­er riders how to re­spons­ibly have fun rid­ing ATVs and mini-bikes.

Yager said that he didn’t con­sider the de­struc­tion of ATVs found to be in vi­ol­a­tion of law an in­fringe­ment of the rights of “re­spons­ible” ATV riders.

Yager also poin­ted out that the Philly’s new law is con­sist­ent with the ATV Safety In­sti­tute’s “Golden Rules” of prop­er ATV use, which in­clude al­ways wear­ing prop­er hel­mets and safety gear, su­per­vising riders un­der the age of 16, nev­er rid­ing on paved roads and only rid­ing at safe speeds on prop­erly des­ig­nated trails.

“There are mil­lions of ATV users with­in the United States that drive re­spons­ibly,” he said. “Hope­fully, the city will con­tin­ue in­vest­ig­at­ing leg­al rid­ing op­por­tun­it­ies, be­cause it’s a win-win.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­

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