ATV law may face enforcement push

Adam Robison | Daily Journal While Mississippi ATV law has gotten stricter and includes language that bans them from public roads, there is still no penalty for anyone found operating an ATV on the state's roads.

Adam Robison | Daily Journal
While Mississippi ATV law has gotten stricter and includes language that bans them from public roads, there is still no penalty for anyone found operating an ATV on the state’s roads.

By JB Clark

Daily Journal

TUPELO – The law on all-terrain vehicle use in Mississippi has gotten a little tighter over the past three years.

Helmets are now required, as are certification courses for underage operators.

But many law enforcement officials say the law still lacks teeth because it provides no penalty for driving ATVs on public roads.

Each year in Mississippi, an average of 18 people die in ATV accidents, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Mississippi State Department of Health. The state’s ATV death rate far exceeds the national average and is particularly high for children under 16.

More than half of ATV deaths occur on public roads.

Mississippi’s ATV death rate is 61.22 per million people, 3.5 times higher than the national average (18.74 per million people). The rate increases for children under 16 where the death rate is 73.76 per million when ATVs are involved, nearly four times higher than the national average of 18.99 per million.

Between 2005 and 2008, Mississippi hospitals reported treating an average of 912 ATV-related injuries for every 100,000 Mississippians, according to the Center for Mississippi Health Policy.

ATV injuries cost $1.3 million to treat in 2009 at the Blair E. Batson Hospital, the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s children’s hospital, alone, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many law enforcement officers, however, say Mississippi’s law doesn’t have an effective and inclusive punishment for violators so they end up using other laws, like improper equipment or driving an unregistered vehicle, instead of the actual ATV law, to write tickets.

The improper equipment ticket applies to most ATVs. Since they aren’t sold to be driven on paved roads, they often don’t include required equipment like rearview mirrors or proper lighting.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he has seen an 8-year-old receive an ATV safety course certification making a scenario possible where an 8-year-old with a helmet and ATV certification could drive a properly outfitted ATV, and under the law a ticket could be written but no fine could be levied.

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, a member of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association’s legislative committee, said in order to give the law a bigger impact, his deputies will write an improper equipment ticket and then tow the ATV if an operator is caught driving it on a public road.

Tupelo Police Cpl. Philip Sanderson said since the ATV law is vague, he also usually tells his patrol officers to write an improper equipment ticket.

Currently, the law says anyone who meets the requirements (a driver’s license, or a helmet and ATV safety course certification for those under 16) can operate ATVs on public property.

A violation of that law can carry up to a $50 fine.

An amendment to the law says, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize operation of an off-road vehicle on a public road or highway …,” but Johnson said that particular section (§63-31-3-6) doesn’t provide a penalty.

Johnson, Sanderson and Mayfield all agree a law clearly banning ATVs on public roads with a clear penalty would give law enforcement a real tool with which to enforce the law and, in turn, deter people, especially young people, from riding ATVs on the road.

Martin Pace, Warren County Sheriff and Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association’s legislative committee member, said he has brought this issue up with his local representatives and it has been discussed in the committee.

“This is something I would absolutely support,” he said of a specific law banning ATVs from public roads. “That’s the whole purpose of having traffic laws, to deter that specific activity. I think the big picture is it will save lives, injury and property.”

Pace said he has trouble with young people riding four-wheelers on subdivision streets in the suburbs of Vicksburg.

Lynn Evans has helped lead the charge for tighter ATV regulation as a lobbyist for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She said doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians were so tired of seeing the injuries and deaths caused in ATV accidents they decided to push the Legislature to pass something, and in 2011 a law that required helmets and ATV safety course certifications for operators under 16 was passed.

This year, she said they do not have any specific legal recommendations for Mississippi legislators. She said she would encourage law enforcement groups like the Sheriffs’ Association to recommend legal changes to help with enforcement.

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  • DoubleTalk

    So from the figures presented, MS has an average of 9 people killed per year due to ATV accidents. How about comparing that number to how many die from other things. What about comparing ATV injuries to other things like sports injuries, auto injuries, farm injuries etc. How many of the on road ATV deaths were the ATV drivers fault ?
    Any of these have risks. Folks take them voluntarily. You can’t legislate the risk out of an activity. We might all be better off if everyone drove an ATV or Gator. Regulate the speed to 30 MPH for everyone. I imagine injuries and deaths would decrease. Things would get done slower but the risk reduced.
    Go back to the Model A days. How many deaths/injuries were present then ? Personal responsibility and risk taking is it. You decide, not someone else.

    • Kevin

      Actually, in the model A days, there were quite a high number of deaths and injuries because the vast majority of model A owners knew hardly anything about safety with the automobile technology be so new and all. Even by the 1950s, Mississippi ranked highest in automobile fatalities–and as you alluded to speed was the major contributing factor. Back then, Mississippi merely had signs that said “drive with care” and there was no speed limit on country roads (which were most roads back then). The Farm Bureau began a campaign for increased traffic safety and even coordinated efforts with the department of education to have driver’s education taught in schools. They also advocated a minimum driving age of 15 and I think the legislature listened, being that many of the lawmakers at that time were Farm Bureau members.

  • guest

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out – no penalty for driving a ATV on a public road and more than half the injuries are from driving on a public road. ATV should not be on public roads.

    Anyone who tries to make this more than it is – is clearly a moron.

  • barney fife

    Not licensed for street use. Plain and simple.

  • Tupelo_Guy

    I saw a black teen boy riding on his ATV up and down on my street in city limits. He wasn’t even wearing a helmet. I believe that all ATVs are intended for off-roads, not public roads!

  • Kevin

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out–spend your money on something other than ATVs…like, perhaps, books! Get your kid interested in reading rather than daredevil type activities. Out in Pontotoc’s Black Zion community (what the residents there now refer to only as “Zion”), hordes of people are zooming up route 342 in their four-wheelers at speeds as high as 55 to 60 mph. None are wearing helmets and many of these daredevils are around 13 or 14 years old. Not too long ago in another Mississippi community, a 17 year old girl was decapitated after daredeviling around on the ATV her parents bought her for her 13th birthday. Shortly thereafter, her parents and friends packed a local church asking God why something so awful could happen to a good person. I was thinking “you idiots!” why did you let your kid drive around on that thing. You mess with the bull and you get the horns. A little personal/individual responsibility in this area and there’d be no deaths, no problems with enforcement, and no laws against it.

  • no*spin

    Could the reason the sheriff is not doing anything about this is that he is a public elected official? If he starts pulling ATV/Golf Cart/Polaris/Gator riders over, giving tickets for no helmet, safety cert, he loses votes.