The reforms under consideration for all-terrain-vehicle regulation look good on paper. Unfortunately, that's not where ATVs are operated. In the backcountry, many of the reforms could be as meaningless as a rancher's shout of “slow down!”
Based on a report by the Game and Fish and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources departments, legislators are considering a minimum age of 16 for ATV operators, speed limits of 20 mph on roads and 10 mph on trails, stiffer penalties for repeat violations, driver's license endorsements and field enforcement by Game and Fish officers.
The new measures would beef up a 2005 law that requires riders under 18 to wear a helmet and eye protection and to attend a safety class.
That was a good first step, but ATV deaths continue — with 35 percent of them involving youths under 16. Damage to the environment continues as well.
“This is a crisis,” says Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors of the 2005 law.
To protect riders and environment, legislators need to picture what will work in the woods.
Asking far-flung Game and Fish officers to keep an eye out for violators would provide spotty enforcement at best. Better to organize super blitzes at strategic locations, with State Police acting as backup. Stiffer penalties mean little in themselves; tying them to points on a driver's license would add teeth.
Most ATV operators are responsible folks who want to continue enjoying the backcountry. They should be enlisted to support another of the report's recommendations: a citizens' hot line to report violations.