Allowing ATVs, OTVs, UTVs on County Roads- For the Record

Updated May 25, 2021 – 1030 hrs

QUESTION: Should vehicles designed and purchased for off-road use be allowed on local county roads?

Local Media Coverage:

March 2021. PROPOSAL: Petition at Change.org – Allow ATV and UTV use on public roads in Brown County Indiana”

Questions:

  • What are all the vehicle types referenced in the ordinance?  What are the specifications regarding speed and noise?
  • Is the intent for including a wide range of vehicles to increase the number of supporters for an ordinance?
  • Note the higher-end vehicles with a few modifications, can reportedly by made street legal.
  • How many owners of ORVs will benefit?  A dozen, 50, 100, 1,000…?
Brown County Indiana Citizens against Off Road Vehicles on our county roads

Safety:  What are the manufacturer’s recommendations when operating on a paved road?  What are considered to be safe operating speeds?

Roads.  Are roads assessed on safety e.g. condition, line of sight, grade, blind curves ..?  What does DNR consider an unsafe road?

Culture.  ORV /ATV riding is marketed by many communities in support of destination tourism.  If this is a potential possibility in Brown County?   Historically, the vision for tourism in Brown County was expressed by  Andy Rogers:

  • “He stands at the center of Nashville’s dogged attempt to satisfy a tourist industry while retaining its soul—the thing that people have lost in their own communities, the reason they come to visit in the first place.  …. “We don’t need to be slick and highly commercial. We need to be more country. Country is what we sell…. We need to maintain that. Once you destroy that, it won’t come back.”

Tourism – Visitors.  Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB) estimates 3 million visitors a year.
This estimate based on park gate fees (2.5 persons per car), innkeeper tax, and the food and beverage tax.

Industry / Economy. What has been the growth in the industry?  What’s the market?

  • What’s the purpose and objective for promoting ORV use on local (county) roads?
  • Is the intent to provide more places to ride for those that have limited access to trails or private land?
  • POLARIS T.R.A.I.L.S. Grant Application $10,000. The T.R.A.I.L.S. program makes funds available to national, state and local organizations in the United States to ensure the future of ATV riding.

“Freedom”   The freedom issue has been raised, e.g. people should be free to use local roads for vehicles that they purchased and were designed for off-road use.  There is Freedom-to do something and there is Freedom-from not being adversely affected by a proposed change.

Statute. Can counties limit access to county roads to residents only? (Premise being state and federal money could be used to fund repairs and replacements and have to be accessible to all).

ContextA County Decision-Making Process. Provides a definition of terms and an outline that can be used to consider all relevant issues and interests.

Facebook Discussions on the PetitionSee reactions to initial posted by Paul Hazelwood (for) and Greg Delong (Against).

Assessment – as of May 21, 2021. The issue is if this is the right thing for “Brown” County. ORV owners “chose” to buy a machine designed for “off-road” use. I have not seen any information yet that would convince me a new ordinance is a good idea. I’m not a fan of the “argument from ignorance fallacy” that asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false. Advocates of this proposed ordinance weaken their argument and credibility when demeaning and insulting those that may disagree with their positions. I’m surprised that the industry hasn’t put together a good argument for supporting “on-road” use.

Tourism – A new vision?  Brown County a great place to visit and have fun but not to live?

  • County has about 280+ tourist homes throughout the county. Will this ordinance lead to more tourists who bring their ORVs?   
  • Can ORVs be banned from tourist homes and if so, how could or would this be enforced? 
  • Would the ordinance lead to more private land being used for ORV-related activities?
  • Does the county want to promote and support ORV/ATV related tourism?
  • Hard Truth Hills (325 acres) offers camping and ORV rides.  Developer “compares the company’s sixth location to “an adult Disneyland” that includes food and beverage experiences, all-terrain vehicle tours, on-site trails and a close proximity to Brown County State Park and downtown Nashville. ”  Adult Disneyland’ Opens in Brown County and  YouTubee Video – Inside Indiana Business.

Indiana DNR – Off-Roading

Indiana, DNR.  Off Road Vehicle Laws, Accidents, and Safety Practices by Scott Johnson
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division 5/19/2016  IN DNR Off Road Vehicle Laws Session_4b-Johnson_Officer_Accidents  Pg. 20 of 62

2020 DNR Handbook of Indiana Off Road Vehicles Laws and Riding Basics  and Safe Operating Procedures for ORVs and Snowmobiles. Page 10 includes the following:

  • ATVs are designed primarily for off-road use.
  • Operating an ATV on paved surfaces can be hazardous because of handling issues.
  • Riding on paved roads is a leading cause of ATV-related fatalities.

Official Indiana OHV/ORV Safety Course Take this Indiana–approved course to complete your online OHV/ORV safety education.  

Federal Land (Hoosier National Forest) No ORV/ATV access allowed in Indiana

  • Although responsibly enjoyed by many people, off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are also a major cause of natural resource damage on public lands. OHVs are prohibited on the Hoosier National Forest (Hoosier) and may not be operated on any National Forest System land, road or trail, including campground roads.   
  • Problems Associated with Unauthorized Use:
    • Unauthorized OHV use on the Hoosier has become a significant problem in many areas of the forest. Illegal OHV has:
      • Contributed to soil erosion and compaction, impacting vegetation, by creating their own roads and trails through the forest
      • Impaired water quality due to sediment from erosion
      • Reducing native plant and wildlife diversity by introducing and the spreading  of non-native invasive plants

History:   

  • “This issue has been bought up before the commissioners twice in the last 20 years.  State legislatures left it up to the county to decide …   This may have been the law in Brown County since at the minimum of 1995. …   these vehicles already in Brown County operating against the law, and law enforcement does not have the ability or desire to deal with the issue. Burdening law enforcement which is limited with an additional duty reduces their ability to deal with other issues that are important to us all.”  (Greg DeLong, Brown County Chatter)
    • Should off-road vehicles be allowed on county roads? By – Apr. 20, 2021

      • About a decade ago, in January 2010, another group of county residents approached the commissioners who were in office at that time and asked for ORV use to become legal on Brown County roads. Supporters had a petition with about 130 signatures on it. Many of them were people who used them as a tool on their rural properties.Residents who spoke against it at that time mentioned the dangers of driving on Brown County’s hilly roads, potential road damage, potential operation of these vehicles by tourists who don’t know the roads or the dangers, and greater severity of injuries from accidents on ORVs versus accidents in other vehicles.After hearing public comments, the county commissioners at that time decided not to change the law.

Other Counties: “Sixty-five of Indiana’s 92 counties allow off-road vehicles on county roads. Three other counties only allow their use on roads for agricultural purposes.” Ref: Brown County Democrat. Should off-road vehicles be allowed on county roads? By – Apr. 20, 2021

Scope.

  • Will limiting (if possible) permits to county-only residents that just travel a few miles from their home have little to no impact on other residents?
  • Will including non-residents contribute to more ORV users traveling to Brown County?
  • Will an ordinance increase the number and use of ORVs on roads and on private land?

Volume – The Numbers: What is the projection on the number of vehicles?  A dozen, 50, 100, 1,000?

Road Conditions.  Are some roads more dangerous (line of sight) than others? Is this a consideration in designating where these ORVs should be allowed?

Best Case Scenario – No adverse impacts.

  • Opinion from Advocates: Other counties in Indiana have an ordinance with no problems.

Worst Case Scenarios?   “Noise,” Enforcement, Safety

Personal example. I know of a case in Shelby County, IN. Neighbors from Hell with ATVs and teenagers.  County has a noise ordinance (no decibel level); Sheriff has issued citations that are being challenged in court.  Although ORV/ATVs not allowed on the roads,  roads are being used — the sheriff has to catch them in the act.   An ORV ordinance in Shelby County would most likely lead to more residents voicing complaints.   Complaints were made directly to the sheriff’s office – not the 911 system. Not sure if all the complaints were documented.  Dust was another nuisance issue.  Several neighbors moved and in one case, a new buyer intended to run ATVs on his newly acquired property.

  • New York. Noise Issues with ATV use on private land. Are ATVs A Noisy Nuisance Or A Right?  New Crawford Law Points Up Divergent Views
    • However, some ATV riders will cheerfully admit that making a lot of noise is an integral part of their fun; letting out the throttle and hearing the engine respond with a throaty roar as they head for the next jump is what it’s all about.
    • Meanwhile, their neighbor next door is either calling the police, contemplating suicide, or perhaps murder.

Sound Testing.  Forest Service -How to conduct a sound test –  Max allowable sound – 96 decibels. Off-Highway Motorcycles, ATVs, & RO.Vs This is a summary of the SAE J1287 JUL98 stationary sound test procedure. Although stationary tests measure primarily exhaust noise, this test has been designed to pass quiet vehicles (those which test below a specified limit).

Safety:  Indiana DNR:  “Not all county roads are safe to travel on, ATVs are designed primarily for off-road use. Operating an ATV on paved surfaces can be hazardous because of handling issues. Riding on paved roads is a leading cause of ATV-related fatalities.”  

Controls – allowed by law?   

  • Limit to residents and those with driver licenses with Brown County addresses;
  • Require county-issued permit every year with the option to limit the numbers, or not grant any permits if too many complaints.
  • Direct Sheriff’s office to record noise complaints even though the county does not have a noise ordinance.
  • Limit the number of roads that can be used.
  • Run tests in various areas to assess noise levels in the area.  Some areas of the county can amplify noise.
  • Add financial penalties for violations of the ordinance unless penalties can be assessed under current laws.

Decibel Levels –   What will be the standard for the decibel level?  How will it be tested?  (Appears a decibel level of 80 is common).

Add the fact that the ordinance includes all (?) off-road vehicles that are not street legal (thus the need for an ordinance)?   The exception being farm equipment.

Questions for other Counties.

  • Do you have permits?  If so, what has been the trend in the total number per year?
  • What type of ORVs have been given permits?
  • Do you have a standard for decibel levels and if so, do you have ways of measuring it?
  • Do you have a noise ordinance? If so, what has been the trend on complaints?
  • If you do not have a noise ordinance, do you still accept and record complaints provided by residents?
  • How many accidents have been recorded?  How many citations have been issued?  Did the ORVs result in the need for more staffing or degrade response times for other calls?
  • Is enforcement primarily complaint-driven?
  • On permits, do you limit to county residents only?
  • Given Brown County is a destination for tourism, what if anything should we be concerned with in regards to an ORV ordinance?
  • Do you restrict ORVs from some areas?  If so, why and what type of areas?
  • Do they enforce the ordinance – check for permits?

Questions for Enforcement Agencies (DNR, Sherriff’s Dept, etc.)

  • Is enforcement only limited to DNR – we have two officers in the county.
    • Can sheriff deputies only issue warnings?
  • How many permits have been issued?  What has been the trend?  What type of ORVs have received permits?
  • How many hours (or a percent) are involved with enforcement and compliance to laws and regulations?
  • How many citations have been issued and by type?
  • How many accidents including deaths?
  • How many and what are the type of complaints?
  • Do you track noise-related complaints?

The Process to Approve and Ordinance – The Hoops

  • Commissioners referred this proposal to DNR, County Attorneys and Safety Officials (Emergency Mgmt, Sheriff’s Office) for their review and input. County attorneys will also be involved in reviewing the ordinance.
  • Any concerns, questions, changes, issues, etc. will then need to be addressed.
  • If there are two commissioners that indicate support for the change, ordinance will need to be updated, revised as needed.  Who in county government will take this lead?
  • If it gets to the point that an ordinance as written is considered appropriate, then there will be at least three public meetings to gather more citizen input which may lead to more changes or refinements. The three required public meetings include the First Reading. Public Hearing, and Second Reading.
  • I would not be too surprised to see a counter-petition.

Current Events and Status

May 5, 2021.  BCD. County commissioners researching off-road vehicle ordinance by Suzannah Couch

April 21, 2020. Commissioner Meeting. Commissioners are forwarding the proposed ordinance to the county’s attorney for review, DNR, and public safety officials that would include the  Highway superintendent, Emergency Management, and the Sheriff’s Office.  No indication that the petition was/is limited to Brown County residents

April 20, 2021. Brown County Democrat.  Should off-road vehicles be allowed on county roads? Sara Clifford 

  • Sixty-five of Indiana’s 92 counties allow off-road vehicles on county roads. Three other counties only allow their use on roads for agricultural purposes.
  • A state law that dates back to at least 1995 made off-road vehicles illegal on roads in every Indiana county, but it allowed counties, cities or towns to pass their own laws to allow them if they choose.
  • In the nine-county Indiana Department of Natural Resources district that includes Brown County, Morgan County is the only one to legalize ORVs for on-road use.
  • The DNR is the law enforcement agency that primarily deals with off-road vehicle matters. Other law enforcement agencies also can enforce those laws and investigate accidents.
  • Why does state law default to “illegal” for riding off-road vehicles on roads? … “It’s safety,” said Angela Goldman, a conservation officer for DNR District 6. “Ultimately, nearly all traffic laws were put in place for safety, and that would be the case here. Not all county roads are safe to be ridden on.”
  • In the past five years, the DNR has investigated 31 ORV accidents in Morgan County, where they’re legal on county roads. Fifteen of those accidents have been on roads, according to DNR statistics.
  • Over that same time period, the DNR handled 23 ORV accidents in Brown County, with eight of them being on a road, the agency reported.
  • Those figures may not include accidents investigated by other law enforcement agencies.

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