Should ATVs be used on county roads?

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Commissioner seeks opinions from public

TELL CITY - People have asked Perry County Commissioner Jody Fortwendel about allowing off-road vehicles to use county roads, and now he's asking county residents what they think.

Vanderburgh County commissioners adopted an ordinance about a month ago, Fortwendel said during a regular meeting of the Perry County commissioners Wednesday.

"I have been approached by several people about making it legal for (all-terrain vehicles) to have access to county roads," he said. "I'm asking for input from the public."

Under current state law, off-road vehicles must be registered in most cases, and can be driven on rights-of-way along public highways "if there is sufficient width to operate at a reasonable distance off and away from the traveled part and in a manner so as not to endanger life or property."

Indiana Code 14-16-1-20 also allows an off-road vehicle to be operated "on a highway in a county road system outside the corporate limits of a city or town if the highway is designated for this purpose by the county highway department."

Drivers of off-road vehicles must be licensed before using them on public highway, according to the law.

Conservation Officer Robert Brewington said Friday he doesn't foresee a problem with allowing all-terrain vehicles' use on county roads.

"You will have accidents with anything you allow on the road," he said. People who would use ATVs improperly are probably doing so already, he added, and the change Fortwendel is asking about will benefit those who aren't.

Jerome Knieriem of Magnet stopped by The News office Friday morning to advocate for the change. Like Brewington, he said prohibiting off-roaders from county roads "only hurts law-abiding citizens." He added that overturning the ban would generate revenue for the county through increased registrations, possibly offsetting future tax increases.

The Vanderburgh County ordinance, adopted July 1, requires off-road vehicles to display slow-moving-vehicle placards, to use lights continuously and not to exceed 20 mph while using gravel county roads outside the Evansville city limits.

No passengers may be carried by the vehicles.

"I think it's now OK for farmers," Fortwendel said, adding he wants to look at recreational and other possible uses. He expressed concern, however, about potential liability for the county.

County attorney Chris Goffinet told Fortwendel the county has an ordinance concerning off-road vehicles, and their use on public roads is permitted in some circumstances.

A Perry County ordinance adopted in 1989 permits "three and four wheelers" to be operated on county roads and highways "only for non-recreational purposes." Operators must have valid driver's licenses and the same liability insurance as required for on-road vehicles.

Perry County's off-road vehicle operators must also use lights continuously while traveling on public roads and maintain 100-foot distances between vehicles.

Goffinet said he'd research the issue as Fortwendel seeks public input over the next couple of months.

Anyone who'd like to express an opinion can write to the Perry County Commissioners; 2219 Payne St.; Tell City IN 47586 or call 547-2758.