Randy Robertson says that he has been driving Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles, or Utility Task Vehicles, for years. He thinks they are safe enough for city and county roads and is working for Roswell and Chaves County to pass ordinances to allow them on paved public roads. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)
If a local man’s efforts pay off, the driver beside you on a city or county road in Chaves County months from now could be steering an off-highway vehicle.
A state law taking effect July 1 coupled with 2016 legislation now permit local governments to adopt ordinances that allow the use of off-highway vehicles on some public paved roads within cities or counties. The roads cannot be highways or “limited access roads,” typically defined as roads with few, if any, intersecting streets.
“The law is already out there for us,” said Randy Robertson, who lives in northeast Roswell. “This will be good for Chaves County.”
Robertson, who works with Hanson Operating Co. and has been an off-road enthusiast for years, is advocating proposed city and county ordinances related only to ROVs, recreational off-road vehicles, or Utility Task Vehicles. These look similar to golf carts, but typically are larger and more sturdy.
Although the state law also authorizes all-terrain vehicles to be permitted on paved roads, Robertson said he isn’t a proponent of including them in local ordinances. He doesn’t think the smaller, straddle-type vehicles are as safe as ROVs. Larger models of ROVs are as big as some models of cars, said Robertson.
“One of the things I hear is, no one will see you,” he said. “Well, people are going to see these. They are bigger than a Mini Coupe. … People also worry that they aren’t safe, but, if I had to make a choice to get in an accident in this or a motorcycle, I would choose this.”
Robertson said that he thinks there is a good amount of support among the public for the idea. A Facebook group he started, Street Legal UTV in Roswell, has more than 120 members.
Several areas in the state have already adopted ordinances for off-highway vehicles, according to the New Mexico Game and Fish Department website, which has some laws posted.
“They don’t bring us to the table when they are building the laws,” said Matthew Seidel, OHV staff manager for the Game and Fish Department. “These are the ones we have heard about through word-of-mouth or whatever.”
Municipalities and counties that have passed ordinances include Cloudcroft, Farmington, Elephant Butte, Grants, Harding County, Otero County, Questa, Red River, Ruidoso and San Juan County.
Robertson said he has talked with local law enforcement to get their ideas about what the ordinances should allow and prohibit. He also has consulted with Seidel.
“Our primary concern is safety. Know before you go,” Seidel said. “You need to know the laws before you go drive your vehicles there.”
Robertson is also working with local elected officials to introduce ordinances for the area. The wording he has proposed so far, he said, is based on Farmington’s ordinance.
The proposed local ordinances and state law would require ROVs to have steering wheels, brakes, mufflers, headlights, taillights, rear and side mirrors, and safety belts. Only licensed drivers could operate them, and minors under 18 years old would have to wear helmets at all times. To be licensed by the Motor Vehicle Department for city and county roads, vehicles would have to have 17-digit vendor identification numbers and titles, which would bar golf carts, said Robertson. Drivers also will need to carry liability insurance and obey all traffic laws.
According to Robertson’s proposed ordinances, the vehicles also would have to be able to travel at speeds of at least 30 miles per hour to avoid impeding traffic and could not exceed 45 miles per hour or the maximum allowed by existing laws.
Robertson said he began researching the issue when the 2016 legislation was passed.
So far, the matter has been heard once by the Legal Committee of the Roswell City Council, and Robertson has made public comments to both the Legal Committee and Chaves County Board of Commissioners requesting their consideration of the ordinance. Many more steps are needed before the governing bodies decide whether to hold public hearings to consider adopting ordinances.
“I will say we are looking at it,” said Commission Chair Robert Corn.
Both Corn and Roswell city councilors said that the proposed ordinances need to be considered by elected officials and studied for legal implications before brought to the public.
“Nothing is for sure right now,” Robertson agreed. “The response has been good. No one gives you a yes or a no, but it has been good.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at email@example.com.