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ATVs allowed on the road

Changes in state law allows ATVs and UTVs to be on roads in communities that authorize their use.

The Sauk County Board on Tuesday will consider a major overhaul to rules governing off-road recreational vehicles on county highways.

The board’s five-person Highway and Parks Committee has been working with staff since May to rewrite the county’s existing all-terrain and utility task vehicle ordinance. The panel voted unanimously Wednesday morning to approve the revisions.

The committee’s action sends the matter on to the full 31-member board for final consideration Tuesday night. The board’s approval would repeal and recreate the current ordinance, which was adopted in 2013.

The rewritten ordinance changes application requirements for those who wish to have a section of county highway designated as an ATV route or crossing.

One major change is the elimination of an existing requirement that says ATV clubs must include in their application a list of landowners who were contacted in an effort to establish an off-road alternative.

The revisions also establish clear criteria that the county must consider when reviewing applications, including input from the public and the municipality in which a proposed route is located.

State law allows local governments to decide whether to open their streets to off-road recreational vehicles. The ordinance under consideration only deals with the county’s highway system, which local ATV clubs say is needed to connect a network of municipal roads that already exists.

Sauk County Highway Commissioner Patrick Gavinski told the committee municipal support for road routes is “down the middle.” Several towns, villages and municipalities have opened some or all of their roads to ATVs, while others have declined to open any.

He said several towns have been waiting to see what the county does with its ordinance before deciding on their own rules.

A local ATV club representative told the committee Wednesday that uniformity among municipal and county rules will minimize confusion among riders.

“What we are seeing is townships starting to mirror the restrictions that are in the county ordinance, which is good because that will develop consistency,” said Richard Fish, who represents the Sauk Ridge Runners ATV club.

Fish and other ATV enthusiasts say road routes make riding more accessible and eliminate the need to haul the vehicles to dirt trails so they can be used. Supporters also claim expanded road access will bring recreational tourism to the area.

Others caution that ATVs and UTVs are unstable on paved roads because they are equipped with soft, low-pressure tires and a high center of gravity — a concern echoed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Last month, a national coalition of health, safety and consumer groups urged the county board to reject any proposed expansion of ATV highway routes. And the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal regulatory agency, has launched a national campaign urging ATV riders to stay off roads.

“Even if your county or town law permits ATVs to be driven on paved public roads, we urge you to take caution and keep your ATVs off these roads,” CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle said in a news release. “Off-road vehicles are not designed to be driven on paved surfaces, and collisions with cars and other on-road vehicles can be deadly for ATV operators.”

Local ATV club representatives say safety concerns associated with road use are overblown. And the highway and parks committee has included new elements in the revised ordinance intended to reduce risks.

That includes specific criteria for evaluating the safety of a proposed route, restricting hours of operation to a half-hour after sunrise and a half-hour before sunset, and a requirement that highway riders be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license.

The revised ordinance also says the county does not guarantee that approved routes, crossings or trails are safe for ATVs and UTVs.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.