Legislature tightens ATV law, but no fines

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi lawmakers made a modest update at the end of the recently concluded legislative session to tighten the state’s new all-terrain vehicle law.
The technical amendment (House Bill 1203) will require helmets worn on off-road vehicles to meet strict guidelines and also define where they can operate. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the legislation this month.
“When the accident happened in Lee County, I took the newspaper clipping to the Legislature and said, ‘It needs to be clear that you can’t ride ATVs on the road,'” said Lynn Evans, a lobbyist for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
She was referring to an April 7 accident in which three children were injured and one killed when the ATV they were riding collided with a pick-up truck on a public road near the South Lee Industrial Park
The updated law will change mentions of ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) to “off-road” vehicles in an effort to include dirt bikes and stress that the vehicles aren’t to be driven on public roads, according to Evans.
The amendment also aims to clear any confusion caused by setting rules for operating off-road vehicles on public property, saying, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize operation of an off-road vehicle on a public road or highway of this state.”
This statement will be the first in Mississippi Code to point toward riding off-road vehicles on roads being illegal, but some sheriffs still think the law has no teeth without being tied to a fine.
“There is nothing that strictly prohibits it,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell agreed.
“I think they should get a ticket and be fined,” Cantrell said.
“But, I don’t know of any specific law that allows you to ticket them.”
The amendment will require helmets meet the crash-test standard for motorcycles set forward by the National Traffic Safety Administration.
Evans said The Mississippi Child Death Review Panel has emphasized ATVs as a leading cause of preventable death in children.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Trauma Center reported 79 children being admitted to its Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in 2009 after sustaining an injury on an ATV.
One of the 79 died and 10 children died statewide in 2009 from ATV-related accidents.
Evans said if law enforcement officials think a fine will help, she is willing to work with them.
“When people start getting hurt and killed like it’s happening now, the general public starts asking why we didn’t give a ticket,” Cantrell said.
The law currently allows a $25-$50 ticket to be written for anyone riding without a helmet or without a driver’s license. Anyone under 16 can operate an ATV with a certificate showing they’ve completed an ATV safety course.
jb.clark@journalinc.com