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Off-highway vehicles take the streets; Approved ordinance states vehicles must have appropriate modifications

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On Jan. 11 City Council approved the proposed ordinance allowing off-highway vehicles to operate on paved city streets.

For the vote on the proposed ordinance, the motion passed 7-3.

Councilors voting to approve were Barry Foster, Jeanine Corn Best, Art Sandoval, Tabitha Denny, Caleb Grant, Jason Perry and Natasha Mackey. Councilors voting against were Steve Henderson, Juan Oropesa and Savino Sanchez.

City Councilor Jason Perry made a motion that through public hearing, the ordinance be approved. This particular ordinance was draft B. Councilor Art Sandoval seconded the motion.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman said the city is authorized to allow off-highway vehicles to travel on city streets, which must be implemented through an ordinance according to state statute.

“The language that we have placed our ordinance in requires that the vehicles have the appropriate modification,” Holloman said. “These things include mirrors, taillights. The driver must be licensed and insured — and they are required to follow all traffic laws. This doesn’t allow them to travel on any of the state highways, although it would allow them to cross state highways. If they were to do that, there would have to be a separate procedure where we would have to make an application to the Department of Transportation.”

Holloman said this ordinance was first presented to the Legal Committee on Sept. 28. and on Dec. 14 voted to proceed to the hearing.

In the meeting with Grant, Henderson, and Holloman, Holloman said the language was changed to the ordinance pertaining to recreational or utility off-highway vehicles. He also said the language regarding passengers was updated saying that passengers should be in the seats provided and not in the bed of the vehicle.

Public voice

The public hearing began and 10 citizens came forward to speak. Mayor Dennis Kintigh facilitated the meeting and reminded the audience, for public hearings, citizens are not required to sign up to speak and can have their voice heard after those who have signed up.

“Basically, the states where it was illegal to drive on the roads had the highest death toll of all of them,” Randy Robertson said. “Those that were legal were down at the bottom.”

Leslie Robertson came to the podium and thanked the councilors who were in approval of the ordinance.

“For those of you that may still be on the fence, I would like to remind you that you should put your personal opinions on the side,” Leslie said. “And consider what your voters want you to do. I would ask those behind me that came here tonight whether they spoke or not, whether they came to support this ordinance.”

Nearly every seat was full in the Basset Auditorium at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Half of the audience raised their hands in response to Leslie Robertson’s question.

“Please, councilors, be the voice of the people as you were supposed to be,” Leslie continued. “We would appreciate it very much and again I thank you for your service to the community.”

Arguments for the off-road vehicles involved the statements from acknowledging the safety which the ordinance provides motorcycles and other vehicles on the road already, recognition of the city and county use, assets to businesses and property maintenance were presented in comments throughout.

“Frankly, I like the fact that we can’t use them to go on state highways,” Herb Atkinson said. “You can to cross Main Street, cross Second Street, but not go up and down those streets. I think that is a good part of the ordinance. I would certainly vote in favor of that, but I would like to encourage you to vote in favor. These vehicles are certainly street safe, far safer than other vehicles that are legal to use. I ask you to consider passing this ordinance tonight.”

Clay Woody, from Xcel Energy, said he thanks the city for looking to keep the public safe but reminds the city that traffic laws are broken consistently, even with bike safety and citizens riding in the beds of pickups.

Kintigh called the public who had not signed up to speak in opposition and no one came forward. Two more people came up to speak in favor.

Ruth Leyba who has spoken previously before the council shared her thoughts.

“If you’ll notice, a lot of people speaking up are of the older generation people,” Leyba said. “We are for the this because it makes sense to use this vehicle around town rather than a big vehicle that uses a lot more gas, a lot more of everything. As I’ve told you before, it is very safe. I take grandchildren all the time in them. I don’t feel any fraction of a thought that I am going to be harming them in anyway.”

Leyba mentioned that car seats can be safely secured in off-road vehicles and have more safety precautions compared to motorcycles or electric cars.

“Just consider your wards,” Leyba said. “Consider who you’re voting for, and all prospects in it.”

Councilor considerations

Councilor Steve Henderson said that his thoughts would be in minority after all the support from the citizens, but chose to share his research on the problems with off-road vehicles on hard surface roads.

Henderson said he had done some research on many organizations.

“I would refer you first to our proposed ordinance,” Henderson said. “It says off-highway motor vehicle means a motor vehicle designed by the manufacturer for the operation exclusively off the highway or road. I call that to your attention in our own statute in our own ordinance would say that their vehicles are to be exclusively used off the highway.”

In his research, Henderson said the strongest statements he read were from the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, which promotes the safety and responsible use of recreation and off-highway vehicles in North America. Henderson referenced the research saying that off-road vehicles are designed, manufactured and sold for off-highway use only and riding on public streets and highways can influence the likelihood of off-road vehicles colliding in dangerous situations with cars or trucks.

Henderson also cited the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association compels that use of highway off-road vehicles be prohibited and law enforcement efforts try to prevent this practice.

“Their low-pressure tires are not designed for paved streets,” Henderson said, citing an ATV Safety Institute’s study. “Also, it says, ‘Although the ATVs are designed exclusively for off-road use, many of the ATV occupant deaths occur on roads despite most states having laws prohibiting many times of on-road use.’”

In regard to fatalities, Henderson said that Consumer Product Safety Commission conducts a yearly census of ATV riders’ deaths specific to the type of road.

In a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Henderson quoted the statistics saying two-thirds of the fatal ATV crashes occur on public and private roads.

“I realize that there is some convenience in being able to use these vehicles,” Henderson said. “But the overwhelming evidence by all the studies that I could find — not one of them supported running these vehicles on public roads, so I think it’s problematic for the city.

“I that if we are looking for a way to injure and kill people, I think this is a way that we can help facilitate that. If we are looking for safety, people that are interested in this, but want to run these vehicles in a safe way, I think we ought to vote against this ordinance. I think that in reality, it presents a liability to the city if we have the facts and we know that these vehicles are dangerous, they are not made for hard surfaces, and we go ahead and approve this, I think we open ourselves to liability.”

Councilor Caleb Grant followed Henderson and he said the city has 20 off-road vehicles.

“If the city doesn’t pass this, we are going to need to clean up the policies because apparently, we are not abiding by the law. So I think that is an issue that is more problematic. Some of the information right now proves the point of referring to ATVs, which has nothing to do with what we are talking about right here on this ordinance. All 10 of us are here to get a vote and move on from this.”

Councilor Juan Oropesa voiced his concerns saying the name of off-road vehicles defines their usage and questioned why the state would leave it to the city governments to pass the ordinance rather than making it statewide.

Councilor Tabitha Denny was present on conference call and shared her comments after Oropesa.

“I realize that I am not there, but I understand there are a lot of you there,” Denny said. “I want to say thank you guys for coming out again to voice what you want. That’s so important, so thank you for that. I understand that we are here to protect our citizens, but we are also here to be their voice and their voice is telling us they want this.”

Denny continued saying that she would like to think that those who want to operate and ride in off-road vehicles would take necessary safety precautions for themselves and others.

Showing strong support, Denny applauded Randy Robertson for his work and research.

Council Foster said the off-road vehicles were not permitted to be on roads with speeds over 40 miles an hour, which made sense for cities to pass it.

Foster also thanked Randy Robertson and called the question to suspend debate and go to the final vote.

Votes for vehicles

For the calling of the question, the motion to vote passed unanimously.

The ordinance passed and the crowd began to clap and cheer, which Kintigh brought to a halt.

“We do not have public displays when we take action,” Kintigh said. “Let me explain this very carefully and I want everyone to understand this. What you are seeing tonight is a very intense discussion of public policy with heartfelt positions on both sides. Good people disagree.

To preserve decorum is critical so that we do not break down into animosity where we cannot accomplish the business of the city. That means formality, decorum, respect for everyone. That is why I insist upon it. Regardless of how we disagree, we may agree emphatically on the next, so at no time will we have public displays.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.