ATV SAFETY BILLS IN LEGISLATIVE HOPPER - Passage Highly Unlikely Except Licensing And Taxing

Following a deadly year of ATV accidents in West Virginia, three bills have been introduced in the House of Delegates to place safety restrictions on riders.

The bills require owners to register the vehicles with the state.

West Virginia led the nation in ATV deaths with 54 people dying as a result of crashes last year, with about half occurring on paved roads. Hundreds were severely injured.

"The death rate has gotten way out of hand to an unacceptable level," said Delegate Corey Palumbo, the lead sponsor of one of the safety bills. "I think for us to do nothing this year is unconscionable."

Two of the bills introduced last week would ban ATVs from paved roads, following a recommendation from ATV manufacturers and the State Police.

Palumbo said "I think the main issue is the paved road issue, the ATVs tires not being safe on pavement, the vehicles being unstable," being designed for off-road riding.

The bills also require riders of any age to wear helmets and bans additional passengers unless permitted by the ATV's manufacturer.

Another bill orders state agencies to come up with an incident form that describes all known ATV accidents and orders the Division of Highways to include the forms in its annual traffic accident analysis.

That bill exempts the provisions of the law for riders legally operating ATVs in areas managed by the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority.

Riders going from trail to trail would only be allowed to ride on the berm of a main road for one mile. The law now says 10 miles.

"Ten miles is just an enormous distance when you're talking about going from one area of operation to another," Palumbo said.

Palumbo said he had little hope for his bill's passage. "I think it's a situation where there's a big sentiment out in the state about letting people do whatever they want," he said.

"It's the 'Mountaineers are Always Free' mentality. I think that makes it difficult when you're trying to impose safety regulations of any kind."

Another measure is designed to register titles, license and pay a 5% privilege tax.

About a half-million ATVs are estimated to exist in the state, but only about 150,000 are titled.