Government

Linn County delays vote on allowing ATVs on county roads

Supporters, opponents cite economic benefit, safety concerns

A line of ATVs and UTVs in front of a store in Vinton.
A line of ATVs and UTVs in front of a store in Vinton.

CEDAR RAPIDS — A vote on a proposed ordinance that would allow all-terrain vehicles and off-road vehicles on county roads was delayed Wednesday after the Linn County Board of Supervisors heard from around 150 residents.

More than 100 residents voiced their support for the ordinance at a Tuesday evening public hearing in Central City, county officials said.

An additional 30 people were on hand at the supervisors’ Wednesday morning meeting, with 10 speaking in favor of the ordinance and seven against it.

The ordinance allows for registered all-terrain vehicles to be driven on secondary roads, which are predominantly gravel. The ATVs would not be allowed on 28 major county roads, including Blairs Ferry Road, County Home Road and Mount Vernon Road outside Cedar Rapids.

Under the ordinance, ATVs would have a 35 mph speed limit and could be driven only during daylight hours. Operators would have to have a valid driver’s license.

Residents in favor of the ordinance spoke about the responsibility of drivers, the improved safety features of ATVs and how it should be an ATV driver’s choice whether to wear a helmet.

They also said expanded ATV use would bring economic benefits when drivers ride through small towns, frequenting shops and restaurants.

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Michael Hansen, of Cedar Rapids, told the supervisors Wednesday he frequently takes his family, including his wife, children and grandchildren, into counties that allow off-road vehicles on county roads. While Hansen doesn’t wear a helmet, he has his grandchildren wear helmets and goggles.

“I believe in educating, not legislating,” Hansen said. “I’ve told my kids when I die years from now of a heart attack, in my obituary I want it to say, ‘And he wasn’t wearing a helmet when he passed.’ ”

Al Fear, a law enforcement officer in Swisher, said he, too, favors the ordinance.

“People that are for this ordinance, they are very passionate people,” Fear said. “They are not renegade outlaws spinning wheelies and doing circles on gravel roads.”

Those opposed to the ordinance said off-road vehicles are not designed for public roadways and that it isn’t safe to allow them on roadways.

Dr. Charles Jennissen, of Swisher, a clinical professor with the University of Iowa’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said he researches ATVs and off-road vehicles and feels a responsibility to inform local government leaders about the safety of allowing ATVs on public roadways.

“I’m surprised counties pass this legislation when manufacturers are saying they’re not designed for public roads, not safe on these roadways and there’s an increased liability,” Jennissen said. “As a citizen, I would not recommend passing an ordinance like this as far as safety.”

Karen Thornton, of Mount Vernon, suggested that Linn County instead expand off-road vehicle parks and trail systems.

“The science is clear the operation of off-road vehicles ... on public roads cause deaths,” Thornton said. “Most of these deaths are caused by the tipping hazard and not from collisions with other vehicles.”

Supervisor Stacey Walker asked to delay voting on the ordinance to look into safety studies.

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Walker said he would consider mandating safety trianing and helmet use for drivers and riders under age 18 and would consider higher fines for people who don’t follow the rules.

Supervisor Brent Oleson agreed to delay voting on the ordinance.

“I support this ordinance and this idea of having ATVs on certain county roads,” Oleson said. “I want to amend this in a few ways to address concerns some people have. Risking a first reading today and potentially not getting it passed would be the end of it.”

Supervisor Ben Rogers, who phoned into the meeting from a FEMA safety drill, said he plans to vote against the ordinance.

“It’s hard for me to be moved off my stance of safety, and that this doesn’t improve safety on the road for motorists or ATV users,” Rogers said. “It would take a lot to convince me that somehow this will make our roads safe.”

Supervisors plan to reintroduce the ordinance with some changes. It will not need to go through another public hearing. A majority vote is needed to pass the ordinance.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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