Counties not embracing change in ATV law

Published: Sunday, October 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 11:28 p.m.
Citing safety and enforcement concerns, Columbia and Putnam counties last month opted out of a state law change allowing all terrain vehicles on unpaved roads with a speed limit of less than 35 mph.
Alachua and Suwannee counties could be next, joining other counties in North and Central Florida concerned the change would have created more complaints, safety issues and enforcement problems involving proper ATV use.
Residents can express their opinions on the new law on Oct. 17, said Suwannee County Commission Chairman Ivie Fowler.
Alachua County commissioners last week requested staff to draw up an ordinance that would allow the county to pass on the change as well. A public hearing on the ordinance will be scheduled.
"The issue is people being irresponsible on (ATVs) and tearing up dirt roads," Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron said. "We have a lot of dirt roads in Suwannee County. It's a constant battle trying to keep them grated."
The new law goes into effect today , but counties still are allowed to opt out of the change, according to county officials. In addition to Columbia and Putnam, other counties around the state have decided to opt out of the new law including Citrus, Collier, Hernando and Pasco counties.
Previously, state law said an ATV couldn't be operated anywhere on a road or highway but only on private land or a public track designated for the vehicles. The revised law changed where people can drive ATVs and also requires that a minor on an ATV must be under the supervision of a licensed driver.
But the law doesn't define what is proper supervision, making it difficult for officers to enforce, according to critics.
Alachua County resident Janice Henley, 55, has spoken to county officials and wants the law blocked locally.
"We are terrified regularly by people on ATVs who don't even live in our neighborhood," said Henley, who lives in southwestern Alachua County. "They race really fast. They don't care about the speed. They've scared my 83-year-old mother half to death. They'll come screaming past her."
She said she's had confrontations with some of the ATV riders. "These people actually come into my yard and we have to maintain these roads. They're not county maintained roads. And they just don't care," she said.
But the law change was meant to promote safer use of ATVs by encouraging kids to use the vehicles on rural instead of paved streets and by having adults ride with their children, state Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, has said. Evers proposed the revision.
Putnam County Sheriff Dean Kelly, however, said the law was "very poorly written." For example, he said the law doesn't define what is proper supervision for a child riding an ATV, making it difficult for officers to enforce the law.
If Putnam County hadn't opted out of the law change, Kelly said residents were concerned other counties would and then more ATV riders would show up on his county's roads.
As it is, he said, the Sheriff's Office receives at least 75 ATV-related complaints a month. "That is far too many," he said.
Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee agreed, noting that since last October his department has received almost 500 complaints involving ATVs.
"It's a shame that we have to penalize the majority for just a few, but we felt like it was in the best interest of the community to pass on the ordinance. We felt like we had enough problems with ATVs without adding more to the dirt roads," Gootee said.
Both counties will stick with requirements under the old law prohibiting ATV use anywhere but on private property or approved land, such as a park, Gootee and Kelly said.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or

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