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Last update: May 25, 2005 at 4:36 PM
Minnesota law enforcement agencies to target ATV safety
Associated Press
May 26, 2005 ATV0526

DULUTH, Minn. -- Minnesota law enforcement agencies are launching an effort to boost safety for all-terrain vehicle riders next month.
The Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota State Patrol, county sheriffs, local police departments and ATV clubs announced Tuesday they will coordinate a "Safe Wheelin' Weekend'' June 3-5 to educate the public about ATV safety and to increase enforcement.

"We've done saturations before in a specific area. But this is the biggest thing we've ever done, the first on a statewide basis,'' said Lt. Dave Rodahl, recreational vehicle coordinator for the DNR's enforcement division.

ATV registration in Minnesota has increased from 12,000 in 1984 to 270,000 today. About 5 percent of Minnesotans own ATVs. About 15 million Americans own ATVs.

Since 1995, 114 Minnesotans have died and another 9,700 have been seriously injured in accidents involving off-highway vehicles, which include mostly ATVs, off-road motorcycles and four-wheel-drive trucks.

"It's unacceptable to everyone involved to have 24 people killed (and) another 3,000 seriously injured in Minnesota last year because of ATVs,'' Rodahl said.

DNR has reports on only about 340 accidents last year, but data from Minnesota hospitals compiled by the state Department of Health showed that nearly 2,600 people required emergency medical care because of ATVs in 2003.

"That doesn't include urgent care, chiropractors or doctor's office visits, so you know the real number of accidents is much higher,'' Rodahl said.

About 30 percent of ATV fatalities last year involved alcohol. Rollovers and striking fixed objects are the most frequent causes of ATV accidents in the state, the DNR said.

In one case, one juvenile in Crow Wing State Forest was issued seven tickets in one day last year, saying he "didn't care about the laws.'' In another, four men were ticketed for driving mud trucks in a lake in a state forest. A few hours later, they were stopped again and charged with operating an off-road vehicle off-trail in a state forest.

The "Safe Wheelin' Weekend'' is scheduled at the start of summer vacation for many students because the early days of summer can be especially dangerous when ATVs become "baby sitters'' for some children, said Rich Sprouse, DNR law enforcement division spokesman.

ATV club members will be at trailheads passing out brochures on safety and maps of designated trails, said John Knutson, vice president of the All Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota.

But Matt Norton, forestry advocate for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, praised the law enforcement effort but said one weekend won't change the ATV "riding culture.''

"The DNR didn't support simple solutions like doubling penalties for serious violations or taking away vehicles from repeat offenders. ... They wouldn't even support larger license plates on ATVs. These are things law-abiding riders shouldn't oppose,'' Norton said. "They (DNR) talk about enforcement, but they don't seem to be taking it very seriously.''

ATVs are increasingly blamed for causing environmental damage, especially erosion of the wetlands.

Riders say designating more trails on public land is the key to reducing injuries, but Rodahl says riders need to be responsible.
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