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Bill to let ATVs, UTVs drive on Iowa highways passes first test

DES MOINES — A bill that would make it legal for all-terrain vehicles and off-road utility vehicles to travel on state and county highways appears to be on a fast track in the Iowa House.

The legislation cleared initial review Tuesday in a House subcommittee and is a priority for House State Government Committee chairman Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton. Kaufmann said ATVs are allowed on the roads in 22 states, plus two-thirds of Iowa counties have local ordinances allowing ATVs on local streets and roads.

“I want to make it clear that in every county that this has happened, the ensuing accidents and deaths and Armageddons that were predicted did not happen,” he said.

Dan Kleen of the Iowa Off-Highway Vehicle Association said his group opposes the bill and believes county officials should decide which roads are safe for ATV traffic.

“We think the numbers are low because it’s only been county roads, secondary roads — not on state highways,” he said. “You put a 35 mile per hour machine, no matter how big the roll bar or seat belt is with a 65 mile an hour semi coming up behind you, it’s not a good situation.”

Kaufmann said bicyclists and farm tractors are allowed on state highways and face greater danger than an ATV when a semi pops over the hill behind them.

“I’m going to be in a lot more trouble on my John Deere 3010 and its lack of mobility and its lack of roll cage and the fact that my bare head will slam itself on the concrete,” Kaufmann said.

Scott Minzenmeyer owns Recreational Motorsports in Anamosa, a business that services ATVs and he was among those speaking in favor of the bill at today’s subcommittee meeting.

“We’re not asking to ride 20 miles down a state highway,” he said. “What we’re asking is to ride the most direct route from a county road or a city to get to another county road or a town.”

Steve Tebbe of the Jackson County ATV Club of Eastern Iowa said ATVs are a growing form of recreation, but there’s one serious challenge.

“Getting fuel, food and other necessities in the towns and cities in the state of Iowa due to the fact that…many restaurants, convenience stores and other shops are on municipalities’ state highways,” he said.

Bellevue Mayor Roger Michels said Highway 52 is the main north-south thoroughfare in Bellevue, which means ATVs have to drive out of their way to get into Bellevue. “Opening this up would help for a lot of revenue for our businesses in town and everything else,” he said.

Mark Maxwell, a representative of the Iowa Motorcycle Dealers Association, said the group is “adamantly opposed” to the bill.

“These vehicles are not manufactured to be run on hard surface roads. They’re not. They don’t have highway tires on them. They don’t have antilock brakes,” he said. “They do not comply to the federal motor vehicle safety standards. That’s the facts.”

Maxwell said county level decisions about where ATVs may safely operate makes sense.

“As somebody who lives in Des Moines, I don’t want ATVs and UTVs on the streets of Des Moines,” Maxwell told lawmakers. “I understand in the smaller communities it works well, and we have no problem with that, but one size does not fit all.”

The bill is scheduled for debate in a House State Government Committee next week and Kaufmann said he aims to have it debated in the full House by the first week of February.

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