WAPELLO, Iowa — Opponents to a petition that asks for Louisa County’s secondary roads be opened for ATV/UTV use offered their views during Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.
The proposal was originally presented to the supervisors on Nov. 24. According to petition organizer Tim Gerst, more than 400 people had signed the document, which asked the supervisors to approve action allowing the vehicles to use the county road system.
Gerst had explained that many communities in the county already allowed the vehicles inside their city limits, but that only created isolated islands since drivers could not legally run them on county roads to get into the towns.
However, at Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Charles Jennissen, a pediatric and emergency medicine physician and professor with the University of Iowa, spoke against the proposal. Jennissen and several other university researchers have studied all-terrain vehicle accidents and reported the majority of fatal accidents involving ATVs occur on roadways.
Jennissen said more fatal accidents could happen because of additional use of the roadways.
“We’re seeing a disturbing trend where more cities and counties are allowing more use,” Jennissen told the board.
He said the vehicles high center of gravity, size, speed, tires and differential type all contributed to roadway safety concerns.
Jennissen cited numerous studies that indicated ATV/UTV use on roadways was unsafe, including one that showed about half of the deaths involved the vehicles running on unpaved roadways. Another study showed about one-third of the accidents involved a single all-terrain vehicle, while two-thirds of the accidents involved another vehicle.
He also said about 35 percent of the injuries in accidents involving all-terrain vehicles in Iowa happened on roadways.
“ATVs and UTVs are not designed for on-road use,” Jennissen said, adding he had strong feelings about the issue since he had a cousin who died in an ATV roadway accident.
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Gerene Denning, a research director at the University of Iowa and a member of the Iowa Injury Prevention Task Force, repeated that message, especially for ATVs, in an email message she sent to the supervisors.
“The manufacturers strongly warn against misusing their vehicle by taking it on the road. Who would know better about the responsible use of ATVs?” she wrote in her email.
Louisa County Chief Deputy Josh Helscher asked Jennissen if he could provide actual numbers behind the percentages. Although Jennissen did not have any specific numbers for accidents, he did report there were usually between 8 to 10 ATV/UTV deaths in Iowa each year.
“They don’t happen that frequently, but they are terrible; (and) it’s something I know is preventable,” he said.
Gerst also provided statistics, explaining there had been 319 ATV/UTV-related deaths in one recent year, with 43 of those deaths involving 13-19 year olds. He also said many of those involved alcohol.
“They are not supposed to be on the roadway,” he said.
The supervisors indicated the issue could come down to learning about experiences in other counties and separating out ATVs and UTVs.
“I don’t want ATVs on the road, but side-by-sides, I can see that,” Chris Ball, who said he legally operates both on roadways in his farming business, said.
Board Chair Randy Griffin agreed, but said more research was needed.
“We need to talk with the other counties,” he said.
In other action, the supervisors received the monthly activities updates from IT Director Chuck Borschel and Community Services Director Pat Colthurst. The board also approved $930,774 in claims.