Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


ATVs on roads? Last hearing Tuesday


Supporters of an ordinance that would allow ATV use on Haines Borough roads turned out to testify in front of the assembly last week, claiming ATVs are a more economic and practical way for getting around in rural areas.

Resident Jim Shook said allowing ATVs to use the roadways would increase mobility and “add to the character of the town.”

“I just think it is a common-sense thing. Hundreds of communities in Alaska do it,” Shook said.

Tim Ackerman also voiced support of the ordinance, claiming it would save money for residents who could use their ATV to commute. “It’s a lot more economical to run a single-cylinder transportation vehicle that does the job of a $50,000 truck. The economy of the town is such that we are all not rolling in $100,000 pay periods per year. A lot of us are economically in the lower bracket, so that’s why I am saving money by riding a four-wheeler.”

Opponents of the ordinance maintain allowing ATV use on roads would be loud and unsafe.

Resident Thom Ely warned that in addition to preoccupying the police department with enforcement issues, ATV use on roads has been statistically shown to be dangerous and deadly. “There is a good chance there will be deaths and injuries over this.”

An ordinance similar to the one being currently considered failed in October 2011 after several rewrites and review by the borough attorney. Former police chief Gary Lowe also firmly opposed the ordinance, citing safety concerns.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states ATVs should never be driven on paved roads, a fact Lowe pointed out in 2011.

Because of the way ATVs are designed, turning on pavement is “difficult and dangerous,” the commission reports. As ATVs have solid rear axles and no rear differential – which allows the outer wheel to rotate faster than the inner wheel during a turn – the vehicles skid and are more apt to roll when making turns on pavement.

ATVs on paved roads are also more likely to hit or be hit by other vehicles. “While passenger vehicles contain safety features designed to protect occupants from collisions, ATVs do not,” the commission wrote in a press release.

In 2007, the last year the commission compiled data, 65 percent of ATV deaths for which a location was identified took place on roadways.

The ordinance does include safety precautions, including a 25 mph speed limit, and required helmet use. Drivers would also have to be at least 16 years old, hold a valid operator’s license, have the vehicle registered and present insurance upon demand.

Resident Heather Lende also testified at the meeting, proposing a compromise that would establish a “slow lane” where ATVs, golf carts, electric cars, skiers, skateboarders and other modes of transportation could travel alongside traditional vehicles, which would be limited to traveling at 15 mph.

The assembly voted Feb. 25 unanimously to advance the ordinance to its second public hearing. It will consider passage at its Tuesday meeting.