Summer accidents

A Dothan Police officer investigates the scene of an accident involving a truck and a dirt bike in 2016.

Driving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on any Alabama roadway is illegal. However, local law enforcement agencies are continuing to see an increase in accidents involving ATVs.

Alabama law states that in order for a vehicle to legally travel the roadways in Alabama, that vehicle must have a license plate, and ATVs can’t be tagged in Alabama.

ATVs can be dangerous. In 2013, 590 ATV-related deaths were reported nationwide. In 2016, more than 101,200 injuries were reported across the U.S.

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Capt. Tracy Nelson said troopers are continuously responding to serious or fatal accidents involving ATVs.

“People need to realize ATVs — and that includes dirt bikes — are not designed to be on the roadways,” Nelson said. “That’s why they are known as off-road vehicles. They are to be used only off-road; and when used off-road they still should be used with caution. An ATV can be a dangerous piece of equipment when used improperly.

“We respond to a huge number across the state,” Nelson said. “But remember, that’s just the number of accidents reported. A lot of accidents don’t get reported. Usually when they call law enforcement, that ATV accident is serious or fatal. Everyone needs to realize an ATV not driven properly and legally can lead to death or severe trauma related injuries, and that is nothing to joke about.”

Police say a majority of the ATV accidents occur because motorists are not expecting an ATV to dart on the roadways.

“Motorists routinely are not anticipating that a 4-wheeler, dirt bike or mule will dart in front of them while they are traveling down the road,” Nelson said. “However, this happens quite frequently. Plus, ATVs don’t have turn signals or proper lights, and you never see an ATV driver using hand signals. Usually ATV drivers and riders are concentrating on riding for fun. The roadways are not to be ridden for fun.”

Many owners mistakenly believe ATVs are allowed on dirt roads.

“There is the misconception that ATVs are allowed on dirt roads,” Nelson said. “Dirt roads are to be considered highways when it comes to vehicle usage.”

Alabama law does have an exception for ATVs used in agriculture.

The exception allows agricultural workers to properly label and identity their ATV used for agricultural purposes; and any violation of this law can result in a fine.

“Farmers use their ATVs to check on their fields and crops,” Nelson said. “They are not using their ATV for violating any laws.”

Nelson knows all too well the pain and disbelief a family and or friend can feel after the death of someone they love involved in an ATV accident.

“I had a good friend get killed riding an ATV on a roadway,” Nelson said. “To this day, I can’t believe he is gone and is dead because of riding an ATV on a roadway. I see members of his family quite regularly and they are still dealing with his death and how his death occurred. The family of those killed or injured in an accident are stuck dealing with the pain and the questions, when all that could have been avoided if the law had been followed. The saddest thing to me is, I lost a great, dear friend and his family lost a precious family member.”

Nelson shares a piece of advice with parents who allow their underage children to drive ATVs.

“According to Alabama law, a parent can be charged with a misdemeanor charge for allowing their underage child to drive an ATV,” Nelson said.

Alabama Law Section 32-5-65 states any owner or person in charge of any motor vehicle who permits any child under the age of 16 years old to operate a motor vehicle on public highways shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

An additional concern for law enforcement includes ATVs causing damage to roads and private property.

Geneva County Sheriff Tony Helms said his office receives two to three calls a week regarding ATVs damaging dirt roads and private property, causing unknown costs to residents who have had property damages and the Geneva County Road and Bridge Department in road repairs.

“We have several dirt roads in our county, and we are having individuals taking their four-wheelers and other ATVs out on the dirt roads and tearing the roads up,” Helms said. “This causes problems for those residing on those dirt roads. Many residents don’t want to travel the roads due to the damage. An ATV is an off-road vehicle and that is where the vehicle should be driven. Not on the roadways.”

According to Helms and Nelson, no one is targeting ATV owners.

“Our main goal in law enforcement is to keep people safe, and to make sure everyone obeys the law,” Nelson said. “That includes obeying the law regarding ATVs.”

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Follow Michele Forehand on Twitter @micheleforehan1

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