EFFINGHAM — An Effingham County Board subcommittee is at a standstill over allowing all-terrain and utility task vehicles on county roads.
Members of the board’s Legislative and Personnel Committee ATV and UTV subcommittee met recently to discuss the status of an ordinance allowing the off-road vehicles on county roadways. Subcommittee members Ed Hoopingarner and Dave Campbell have been working on putting together the ordinance.
Hoopingarner said in order to allow the vehicles, the county is required to follow the state law as well.
“Local governments ... can authorize ATVs and all this on their roads that are posted 35 mph or less. (State law) is not saying that the ATV has to go 35 mph. It’s saying that the traffic is running slow at 35 mph or less, and they will let the municipalities authorize that,” Hoopingarner said.
His draft of an ordinance would require vehicles approaching ATVs, UTVs and other units to slow down to 35 mph, he added.
“The state law says that it has to be on a highway of 35 mph or less. How we’ve done that is when a vehicle approaches a horse, a bicycle, pedestrian, farm equipment or an off-road vehicle, they have to reduce their speed to 35 mph within 1,000 feet prior,” Hoopingarner said.
Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler said he did not think a “moving speed zone” is applicable to the law. He said most speed zones already in place are stationary, such as a school zone when lights are flashing.
Kibler said he does not see how the county can allow the vehicles and still comply with the state law.
“I don’t see how you can make this legal unless you post a 35 mph speed limit on the roadway. It (the state law) says a non-highway vehicle may be operated only on streets where the posted speed limit is 35 mph or less,” Kibler said. “To get this by, you’ve either got to change the roads or the way you said, ignore it. You’re stuck either changing the speed limit from 55 mph down to 35 mph of just ignoring it.”
Subcommittee member Joe Thoele said he could not get on board with a county ordinance if Kibler does not give the OK that it’s legal and compliant with state statute. Subcommittee member Rob Arnold agreed, saying he was unsure of the legality of requiring vehicles just to slow down to 35 mph when approaching an off-road vehicle rather than changing a posted speed limit to 35 mph when almost all county roads have a posted speed limit of 55 mph.
Arnold said though the county only has jurisdiction over county roads, the subcommittee would still need to consult townships because they have jurisdiction of roads adjacent to county roads.
Arnold said because accidents involving ATVs and UTVs on roadways are rare in the county, and off-road vehicle drivers are not often reprimanded unless driving recklessly or involved in an accident, he sees no need to try to change the state law or implement an ordinance.
“I’m a firm believer in my conservative roots, which is if I don’t have to make government any bigger than what I have to, I don’t want to. Right now, from what I read and what I have seen, I don’t have an issue on hand that’s going to drive me to make a change in the law that’s going to allow anything different to happen,” Arnold said.
“I haven’t been sold on this because ... I don’t see a reason I have to change a law or anymore government for the level that we’ll have to create to monitor the gains and to document everything that’s going to be required. I have a difficult time saying there’s enough here to tell me I need to change my direction.”
Effingham County Sheriff Dave Mahon said he could not support such an ordinance because he cannot guarantee public safety with more off-road vehicles on county roadways. He read aloud from the state law that local governments can create ordinances allowing such vehicles on the roadway if it doesn’t hamper public safety.
“I cannot as a sheriff say that public safety will not be jeopardized when you put more vehicles on the roadway. If I’m asked, I can’t support it because of that,” Mahon said.
Campbell agreed that his biggest concern is safety, and that is why the ordinance was drafted to include an insurance requirement, required inspections, a horn, lights and other safety features for ATVs and UTVs.
A fee for a permit to operate the vehicles was recently included in the ordinance draft as well. Hoppingarner said he and Campbell did not want a fee originally, but with the added costs of possible plastic license plates for the vehicles and the state-required signage posting the lowered speed limits when off-road vehicles and other units are on the road, the two concluded a fee may be needed.
There was some question as to where the suggested $35 fee would go, but Effingham County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said it would first go to the county treasurer.
As for inspections of the off-road vehicles, motorsport companies Wehrle Brothers, Owen Motorsports and CW Motorsports have agreed to be inspection sites. The owners of each company have said they would work with the sheriff’s office or other county entities to submit the inspections, Campbell said.
Effingham business CW Motorsports owner Cody Willenborg said he believes if a county ordinance is passed, ATV and UTV riders would police themselves and each other so that they do not lose their permits and ability to travel on the county roadways.
Hoopingarner said he has continuously worked with state legislators to push Springfield to change the state law to 55 mph or less, not 35 mph. He said he will continue to push for that change, but the ordinance is not a done deal.
With no clear solution or agreement within the subcommittee, subcommittee chairman Doug McCain told the crowd of nearly a dozen from the community in attendance to put their efforts and requests into the legislators in Springfield.
“It almost seems like it’s going to have to come from Springfield before we get much done. I’m glad everybody showed up for this, but I think maybe you ought to put your efforts into Springfield to get this passed,” McCain said.