COLLEGE PLACE — Concerns that the public may drive through city limits with off-road vehicles, not realizing it’s illegal in College Place, drove a recent City Council conversation.
Council members last week discussed the harms of allowing all-terrain vehicles and utility-task vehicles on public roads in College Place.
Walla Walla, Dayton, Kennewick, Pullman, Moses Lake, Wenatchee and many other cities have legalized ATVs or UTVs or both on city streets, according to previous U-B reporting.
Police Chief Troy Tomaras presented data to the Council and recommended they not allow these vehicles on public roads.
The data was based partly on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study from 2015, which discusses fatalities in traffic crashes involving ATVs from 2004 to 2013.
The study showed an increase in driving under the influence and that these deaths were mainly of the ATV driver driving in rural areas at night.
“A total of 3,411 public roadway fatalities occurred during this time in the U.S.,” public documents stated.
The study also showed that 87% of drivers of ATVs were killed, while 13% of those killed were passengers. Three quarters of people killed were in crashes only involving the ATV and no other vehicle, and 86% of people killed were in rural areas.
“I don’t think it’s the safest thing to do in terms of traffic safety,” Tomaras said. “For some reason, people feel like they can get on these things from the bar or restaurant and drive home.”
Based on the number of people who died in ATV accidents on public roads, 39% were impaired compared to 23% of passenger-car drivers, he said.
When ATVs were legalized in Colfax, city leaders saw a huge increase in DUI arrests because ATVs were allowed on roads, Tomaras said.
“We were saddened by the dangers of them,” Mayor Norma Hernandez said.
Another consideration was that people may start driving the vehicles without meeting the requirements, and education to the public would fall under police department responsibilities.
“There would be a lot of people thinking they could drive their UTV or ATV directly on the road without all of the legal requirements,” Tomaras said.
ATVs have street-legal requirements. The driver must be licensed and wear a helmet and the vehicle must have a windshield, lights, turn signals, brake lights, vehicle licensing, a horn and Department of Transportation-approved street-legal tires and a muffler.
UTVs also have street-legal requirements. The driver must wear a seatbelt, and the vehicle must meet all of the legal requirements of an ATV vehicle.
Part of the discussion was that everything in College Place is walking distance, so only a minority of people would be wanting these to be legal on public roads.
“After careful consideration of it all, the decision was to leave it as is and not allow ATVs and UTVs on College Place public roads,” said Hernandez.