Warwick proposes new ATV safety law

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Warwick-If you haven't seen them you have certainly heard them. Their popularity has quadrupled in the past decade. Kids as young as six are riding them on a regular basis. They are work horses on a farm and great fun on a trail. They are ATVs-all terrain vehicles-and while they can be a great source of family fun when ridden correctly, they can also be extremely dangerous when the rules are not followed. "The key is adult supervision," said Warwick police Lieutenant Thomas Maslanka. "You don't just throw the keys to a car to 16-year-old. You shouldn't just hand over the keys to an ATV." ATVs have become toys for many kids. Young teenagers ask for motorcycles and their parents instead buy them ATVs thinking they are safer, said Warwick Police Chief Thomas McGovern. That's not necessarily true. ATVs are heavy-the same weight as a large touring motorcycle, said McGovern. When riding a motorcycle, the rider can push the bike away as he falls. Not so with an ATV. "You can't push the ATV away," McGovern added. "ATVs run over you. They can crush you." A small ATV weighs about 200 pounds, according to Mike DeBlanco, owner of Backyard Cycle on Forester Avenue. A full size ATV weighs in at about 400 pounds. "It is a great hobby, a good family hobby," said DeBlanco, who shares his passion for riding with his two sons, Wes and Nicholas. "But it has to be done in the right manner." DeBlanco and McGovern stress the safety aspect of the sport. First and foremost, ATVs are not made for street use. "It is simply not safe to ride ATVs on pavement," said McGovern. "They are off-road vehicles. Their tires are not safe for the street." DeBlanco concurs. "The air pressure is lower," he said. "The tires can't grip the road. It's dangerous. And it's not fun. You get no enjoyment riding on pavement. It's just not fun." But the temptation is there, said Maslanka. And that is why so many kids who do not have the property on which to ride end up on the roadway. And it's illegal. The Village of Warwick recently passed a law regulating ATV use in the village. It prohibits ATVs in any residential zone, on public or private property without consent of the village or the property owner, near any public roadway, and operated in a negligent manner. The law states that kids under 16 cannot operate an ATV at all. Where is it legal to ride an ATV? Well, if you own lots of property, your kids can ride their ATVs at home. Or at a neighbor's house with that landowner's permission. Just know that the ATV must be transported on a trailer, since it is illegal to ride it on the public roadway. ATVs are not allowed in public parks, which has been a problem in Warwick, especially at Cascade Park. "We have difficulty patrolling Cascade," McGovern said. "If police only have an ATV, we will have to load it on a trailer in order to get somewhere. By the time we get there, the kids are gone." Which is why he is looking for an on/off road motorcycle in this year's police budget. Last year ATV riders ripped up the newly-seeded soccer field at Union Corners Road. Many a farmer have called police to report kids tearing up their crops. "That's just not the right way to do it," said DeBlanco. "You don't ruin someone's livelihood." It is the increase in problems that has prompted the town to consider an ATV law similar to the village's. "We are not against ATV use," said Supervisor Michael Sweeton. "It is the ever-increasing problems. We are against abuse and disregard for other people that seems to go hand-in-hand with ATVs. We're going to figure out some way to deal with it." DeBlanco said there are places where kids can ride safely, in a controlled environment. There is a track in Walden, Waldenoliday Mountain Ski Resort. Of course, the ATV must be trailered to the track. DeBlanco said there are open track days where kids can ride all day long for $25. "It's a controlled environment on a groomed track," he said. The state has a trail system that is open to ATV riders as well. Vehicles must be registered with the state and have insurance in order to ride on these trails. Since January 1, McGovern said there have been 145 complaints regarding ATVs in town. They include noise, trespassing, speeding, and riding on the road. He and DeBlanco hope that education and new regulations will curtail the trend. "These kids are going to run into both of us at some point-either for parts or for trouble," said DeBlanco. "Be responsible."