DES MOINES, Iowa — Off-road motorsports enthusiasts Monday pressed for uniform rules that would allow them to operate all-terrain vehicles on secondary roads across Iowa while opponents raised concerns about safety and injury costs that could offset any tourism gains.
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Bellevue, said cities and counties already have the authority to designate highways or roads under their respective jurisdictions for operation of off-highway vehicles but supporters want a statewide system that would establish uniformity and provide shared liability for local jurisdictions.
Proponents of a law change said a uniform law would eliminate the potential for 99 different sets of rules that could make a legal activity on a local road illegal at the county line. They also said Iowa could reap benefits from registration fees and tourism spending from expanded outdoor recreation opportunities.
Naysayers worried that Iowa would reverse a positive trend of lower highway fatalities and face growing costs associated with traumatic brain injuries by promoting expanded use of vehicles with narrow wheel bases and high centers of gravity that were designed for off-road activities.
I hope it won't pass," said Gerene Denning, a University of Iowa researcher and a member of the ATV Injury Task Force. "It just doesn't make common sense that you would pass laws that you know are going to promote unsafe behavior."
Iowa lawmakers considered a measure last session to allow "road-ready" ATVs to be driven up to 45 mph on some hard-surface or gravel roads once they were registered and licensed by the state. The measure, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate, would allow all-terrain vehicles to be operated on secondary roads but not on primary highways — except to cross over a primary highway.
Sen. Chris Brase, D-Muscatine, co-leader of a legislative interim committee studying the issue, said lawmakers are looking to balance concerns about individual rights, local home rule, public safety, training and licensing requirements. But he was optimistic a compromise version could be forged to get a bill to Gov. Terry Branstad's desk during the 2014 session.
"There is just a lot of information there to balance out," he said. "With some education, I think we can work through it; it's just a matter of finding those compromises."
David Downing, OHV programs manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, said Iowa had 51,153 off-highway vehicles registered in fiscal 2013 — including 28,222 ATVs.