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“Is this a good legal move for the county? A good public safety move for the county? Will it benefit the majority of residents in the county?” he asked. “The answers are a resounding no, no, no.”
Despite warnings from manufacturers, federal agencies and others, the consumer federation’s report finds that 35 states allow ATVs on some roads under certain conditions. The report’s authors also counted at least 18 cities, counties and states currently trying to expand ATV access.
“There’s a clear, 10-year trend … that shows no signs of abating,” Best said.
Minnesota counties that have opened their roads to ATVs in recent years say it’s worked well.
Roseau County, bordering Canada, passed its ordinance in 2006 allowing ATVs on many highways and roads. Some busy stretches were left off the list, said Brian Ketring, the county’s highway engineer.
“The best thing is that it keeps ATVs out of the low, wet areas,” he said. “We don’t have them driving through the wetlands any longer.”
Before, many ATV riders would drive on the road anyway, after encountering water in ditches, Ketring said. “It just made sense to be on the shoulder.”
In its booklets, the DNR offers tips to ATV operators to prevent rollovers — the leading cause of accidents, data show. Among them: Operate at slow, safe speeds. Don’t carry passengers. Then: “Stay off roads and hard packed surfaces!”
Some ATV riders believe that roads can be safe if the rider follows the other rules. “I hate to say it, but a lot of the deaths and accidents on the roads themselves frequently involve speed and alcohol,” said Radke, president of the statewide group.
Cook County Sheriff Mark Falk said the area that includes Grand Marais has not seen a big increase in ATVs or injuries since its ordinance passed in 2010.
“The injuries we’ve had have been unrelated to use on county roads,” Falk said.
When the county first held public hearings on opening roads to ATVs, the room was packed with supporters and critics. In 2013, when the county revisited the ordinance, it passed without fanfare, Falk said.
“Even people who were opponents of it have said, ‘Hey, it’s actually worked out pretty well.’ ”
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168