All-terrain vehicle law questioned after Lee County wreck

By The Associated Press

TUPELO — Most people who ride their four-wheelers do so on their own property.

WTVA-TV reports (http://bit.ly/HZG9ay) that occasionally someone will drive them on the road, and in Mississippi, that’s somewhat legal.

Mississippi law allows all-terrain vehicles to be driven on public property on two conditions.

“You either have to have a valid driver’s license or you have to go to a safety course that is mandated by the state of Mississippi and federal government,” Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said. “(It’s) taught by the county extension office as a certified course.”

Johnson said the problem is a gray area in the law. It does not specifically exclude public roads, which means it’s legal, even if the federal government considers these vehicles “off-road.”

“The legal end of it is what we’re battling at this point: can or can you not operate an ATV on a public street?” Johnson said.

A wreck this past Saturday involving four children on an ATV took place on a public street. The four children were hurt when their four-wheeler collided with a pickup truck in the Brewer community on a county road.

Three of the children remained Tuesday in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. A 13-year-old Nettleton resident, 10-year-old Shannon resident and two-year-old Plantersville resident were riding a 1998 Honda Fourtrax ATV along with a 9-year-old Amory resident who has since been released from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo.

Johnson tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/I0rg7T ) that the 13-year-old driver did not have a safety course certificate.

Johnson said state doesn’t mention passengers, though the safety course advises against having passengers on an ATV.

All ATVs are not created equal. What might be considered a small one, for example, sits about three feet high.

However, it has the same age requirements as any other four-wheeler in the building. Drivers must be at least 16 years old to ride it.

There’s no minimum age requirement in Mississippi law, though, which means a child under the age of 16 could get their certification to drive one.

Tupelo ATV dealer Russ Harrington said the vehicles need to be taken seriously.

“These units are made primarily for off-road, not on-road use. There’s so much difference in speed between an ATV and a vehicle and so much difference in weight between an ATV and a vehicle.

“It’s just much safer to use it off-road. That’s what they were designed for,” Harrington said.

Johnson said a more specific law would help.

If nothing is done, “then we’re gonna keep dealing with it like we are now,” Johnson said.