Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 5, 2013

ATVs don’t have run of the roads

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — As the popularity of recreational ATV use grows, state troopers in West Virginia said they are finding many local residents are unclear on local and state ATV laws.

Sgt. M.S. Haynes, assistant detachment commander with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment, said complaints about improper ATV usage are widespread throughout Mercer County and particularly in residential neighborhoods.

“ATVs are pretty popular and we do get a lot of complaints ranging from reckless driving to kids driving ATVs to people riding without helmets or riding on the street,” Haynes said. “It is a frequent problem, especially in the summer time and on the weekends. To me, it seems improper use is more of a problem among local residents rather than visitors. The complaints mainly come from ATVs being used in roads around neighborhoods or riding them too fast. A seven or eight-year-old speeding down a road on an ATV will draw a lot of attention.”

Cpl. C.K. Morton with the West Virginia State Police Welch detachment said he finds many McDowell County residents are also unaware of ATV restrictions.

“We see a lot of ATVs on roads where they shouldn’t be,” Morton said. “Locals are the ones who do most of the driving where they shouldn’t. They use them to go get their mail or to go to the grocery store. They don’t realize the law allowing ATVs to operate on certain roads was intended to allow people to access gas stations or trailheads, not for people to drive ATVs on the road so they can run errands.”

Haynes said he finds many people cited for ATV infractions claim to be unaware of the law.

“Sometimes they aren’t aware of what they can and can’t do,” he said. “You can’t endanger another person’s property or other people. A lot of people want to know what roads they can operate on because those laws can get complicated. Many towns have different ordinances listing when and where ATVs can be operated. A lot of times we have to educate them on the law.”

Morton said he finds many ATV operators are unaware that a valid driver’s license is required to operate any ATV in West Virginia.

“We have done many traffic stops or cited someone for driving an ATV without a valid license,” he said. “ATV drivers must have a valid license though many people think they can operate an ATV without one. If you are illegally operating an ATV, your driver’s license can be suspended. You can also be cited or ticketed for ATV infractions.”

Morton said there is also a maximum speed limit of 25 miles per hour for ATVs on most West Virginia roads.

“We are always afraid that ATVs will interact with traffic,” he said. “ATVs can only travel on paved roads that are unlined and they cannot exceed 25 miles per hour. ATVs don’t need to be on roads where traffic is coming at them at 55 miles per hour. A lot of times, ATV riders don’t realize they are confined to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour because crashes at higher speeds can be even more dangerous to riders.”

Haynes said there are other common sense guidelines ATV operators should follow.  

“You should not operate your ATV on main roads,” Haynes said. “If an ATV rider is on a main road and gets into a collision with a vehicle the person operating the ATV is going to be the loser. You must be at least 16 years of age and have a valid driver’s license to operate an ATV. Don’t let kids drive ATVs. Don’t drink and operate an ATV. There are also passenger limits to many ATVs.”

Haynes said there are plenty of resources available for those who want to make sure they operate their ATVs safely.

“If you aren’t aware of the laws or unsure if something is against the law you can look it up under motor vehicle laws,” Haynes said. “It is better to know than to not know and get ticketed. Drivers should follow all of the manufacturers directions on who should ride, how they should ride and how many people should ride an ATV. There are also ATV safety classes available for those who are just learning to ride or those who want a refresher on safety.”   

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com