11/30/05 — New ATV law takes effect Thursday

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New ATV law takes effect Thursday

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on November 30, 2005 1:48 PM

A new law designed to restrict the use of all-terrain vehicles in North Carolina has loopholes that limit its effectiveness, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders says.

The law, approved by the North Carolina Legislature, goes into effect Thursday.

Under the new rules, no one under the age of 8 can operate a three- or four-wheel ATV. Children under the age of 12 cannot drive one with an engine larger than 70 cubic centimeters. Youth under the age of 16 cannot drive one if they are not being supervised by an adult.

But loopholes written into the law exempt children whose parents bought the vehicle before Aug. 15. They also exempt anyone operating an ATV for farming or hunting purposes.

Those loopholes make it difficult to restrict the use of the vehicles by young people, Winders said. Lawmakers' stated intention in drafting the law was to reduce the number of accidents involving young drivers, he pointed out.

The new law requires all ATV operators to wear a safety helmet and eye protection. No ATV can lawfully be driven on a public street, except to cross it.

Winders said his office gets many calls from property owners complaining about ATVs tearing up private property and farmland, but circumstances make it difficult for deputies to catch trespassers.

"We're limited on what we can do. It's impossible to drive a Crown Victoria through a bean field to the woods," he said.

Property owners want deputies to run down trespassers, but officers have to use common sense in trying to uphold the law, the sheriff said.

"If a child doesn't want to be caught and is running from you and hits a tree and is maimed or killed, then what happened in the field doesn't matter. That's something they need to think about," Winders said.

Winders said there are legal places for people to ride their ATVs, such as Busco Beach, where a fee can be paid.

Goldsboro police officials say they have received few complaints about the vehicles because there are few open spaces in which to ride them. They say they will remain vigilant.

Winders urged parents to use caution and good judgment when allowing their children to operate all-terrain vehicles.

Eleven children under the age of 16 died last year while operating ATVs in North Carolina.

In Wayne County alone, three people have been killed since 2002 while operating them.

A Wayne Memorial Hospital police officer, J. Reid Lee, a former sheriff's deputy, was killed April 18 when his ATV ran off the left side of River Road and struck a utility pole.

A high school student, Travis Wayne Godwin, 17, was struck by a car Dec. 1, 2002, as he tried to cross Oakland Church Road.

A Duplin County resident, Jesse Brown Best, 68, of Warsaw, fell off the back of a four-wheeler and struck his head Aug. 9, 2002. He died the next day.

Those buying a three- or four-wheeler as a Christmas present might want to get information from the ATV Safety Institute. The institute's goal is to promote the safe and responsible use of ATVs. It offers safety instruction at 924 sites across the nation and information in booklets and compact discs. More information is available from the institute's Web site at www.atvsafety.org.