By NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi Legislature is finished with the regular business of the 2012 session, and some matters were left hanging that no doubt will be revisited either in special session or when lawmakers reconvene next January.
At least one item that wasn’t on the agenda this year should be added for research and discussion between now and the 2013 legislation session. Mississippi’s laws related to all-terrain vehicles need a thorough examination and update.
ATVs have become a mainstay in much of rural Mississippi, an integral part of the culture. They certainly have their place on private lands, if operated with proper care and precaution.
ATVs on public roads is another question entirely, as are the rather loose requirements for legally driving one.
The laxity of Mississippi’s laws governing ATVs – even in comparison with neighboring states – became clear recently when a tragedy occurred in Lee County. Four children, the oldest 13 and the youngest 2, rode an ATV on to Highway 145 near the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South and collided with a truck. The 2-year-old died from injuries.
Nothing in the law prohibited those children from riding in that vehicle capable of reaching significant speed on a heavily traveled public road. That’s an omission that begs for correction, especially in light of the 260 ATV-related deaths over a recent 25-year period statewide – 105 of whom were children.
The law does require a driver’s license or a certificate of completion of an ATV safety course for a person operating the vehicle, but very young children can get such a certificate and can drive if they’re wearing a helmet. Even the minimal requirements of a safety certificate and a helmet are relatively recent changes.
At a bare minimum, children without a driver’s license shouldn’t be permitted to operate ATVs on a public road. There’s a good argument to be made that these vehicles – no matter who’s operating them – don’t belong on anything other than private land.
Both Louisiana and Tennessee have more restrictive laws than Mississippi’s. Tennessee also hits parents hard with fines of up to $250 when their children violate ATV laws. Mississippi should take a look at what those states and others too.
Several area legislators recently told the Daily Journal they were open to considering tighter restrictions on ATV use on public roads and by child operators. We hope that openness turns into a concerted and comprehensive effort to develop a stronger law and the support to pass it.