ATVs may be allowed on Iowa roads

Current state law bans ATVs from most of state's roads, streets

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Off-road motorsports enthusiasts hope to regain the traction they had last spring for legislation to allow all-terrain vehicles on Iowa secondary roads.

They’ll make their pitch to a legislative interim committee Oct. 28 in an attempt to restart their drive to open Iowa secondary roads to ATVs that now are, for the most part, banned for roads and streets.

“I think the (interim) committee will look at what would be a way to provide more opportunities for ATV riders to get out and experience the beauty of Iowa,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa.

Tourism and off-road enthusiasts point to Wisconsin as an example of a state that allows ATVs on secondary roads and say Iowa stands to gain revenue not only from the sales of ATVs, but from the money riders spend for gas, meals, lodging and other purchases.

“The revenue is a bonus,” Bowman said, “but the bigger issue is safety.”

In fact, that’s what stalled House File 619 this spring after it was approved 75-22 by the Iowa House and referred from Bowman’s committee to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Chairman Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, put the brakes on the bill citing the risk of injuries from ATV, which are designed for off-road recreational use, not gravel or hard-surfaced roads.

“It would be fair to say the department has serious concerns with ATVs on or crossing highways,” added DOT lobbyist Mikel Derby.

Geoffrey Lauer of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa is blunter. Allowing ATVs on Iowa roads “the wrong tool for the wrong application … with the inevitable result being death and disability,” he said.

He’s quick to point out that his group is not seeking to limit the farm-to-field and field-to-field uses of ATVs already allowed in Iowa.

“I understand people are passionate about the values and freedoms Iowans enjoy,” Lauer said, but most ATVs carry a sticker stating the three- and four-wheel vehicles are not designed to be road safe. The center of gravity is too high and the tires are for off-road surfaces.

“Ignoring basic public safety by allowing ATVs to share the roads with all other vehicles is a recipe for a significant uptick in injuries, severe injuries, and death,” he said.

In cases of brain injury, Lauer added, the costs can be as high as $4 million per person over their lifetime. Legalizing on-road recreational uses could, he suggested, pass that liability to the state and its citizens.

Support for expanded recreational use of ATVs on roads and streets, where authorized by cities, is coming from tourism promoters, ATV riders and businesses that cater to them as well as the manufacturers. Among those scheduled to speak Monday are the owner of an off-road vehicle park and representatives of ATV manufacturers. They did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

The committee of five senators and five representatives will meet at 10 a.m. Oct. 28 in Room 116 of the Capitol.

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