ESCANABA -As a member of the Michigan ORV Advisory Work Group, I have spent the last year learning the statistical data that demonstrate concentrations of users, areas of use and financial demographics, all of which paint the picture of the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)/ Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) industry in our state.
In the late 1980's, there were so many catastrophic accidents occurring from All Terrain Cycle (ATC - three-wheeler) use, that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took action to take them off the market. However, in working out a compromise with the manufacturers and state governments, laws governing the design and use of the contemporary ATV/ORV (four-wheeler) came to be.
Unfortunately, the laws written back then have had little update and in some instances are antiquated and overly restrictive. Moreover and by design, the laws in place today created a situation that fundamental use education went ignored by the end users and was cause for some changes that took place four years ago and have again compiled statistics regarding safety that have been cause for concern.
It was about four years ago that the State of Michigan took back the educational side of ATV/ORV use from the Department of Education. Until then, instructional classes were conducted on a fee basis, some charging well over $100 per student. Part of the agreement of understanding between the CPSC and the manufacturers was a stipend (or rebate) paid to the consumer upon purchase of a new ATV/ORV, that was intended to help cover the cost of the class. Instead, via the eyes of marketing, many people were given the option of applying the money to accessory merchandise or the class, as there was no obligation for anyone to take the class and become certified to operate.
As a result, we have seen a whole generation of users who were self-taught, and now are teaching the younger generation and at times lacking some of the basics regarding safety.
To compound that problem, retailers were obligated to restrict sale of ATV/ORV machines larger than 90CC engine size to adults who were buying a four wheeler for a youngster less than 16 years of age. It was unenforceable and, for the most part, did not occur. Plus, regardless of there development, after sixteen there are no restrictions on who operates what size machine and any youngster can climb on a four-wheeler now reaching the 1000CC engine size.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.
Today, the ATV/ORV safety classes are being offered free of charge through volunteer instructors. The MDNR is administering the function and have worked to bring critical safe use information to the forefront in the teaching text. Part of the cost of the annual license fee goes towards funding the educational materials and related costs of class material and locations.
This year, the MDNR enacted a requirement to hold "Instructor Academies" for new recruit teachers so that we are all on the same page as to focus during the didactic portion of study. Unfortunately, those classes are held downstate in the R.E. Mullen Center at Higgins Lake. The highest concentration of ATV/ORV use on public land and roadways is set in the northern Lower Peninsula and throughout the Upper Peninsula. The Instructor Academy is on the southern fringe of use and consequently had poor participation by potential volunteers from the north.
Additionally, the teaching text and written test features ATV/ORV uses that are geared towards adult activity rather than that which a youth less than sixteen years of age may commonly experience.
Questions asking what the rating of a hook used to pull a stuck ATV/ORV should be based on gross vehicle or how many wraps on the cable drum of a winch offer optimum pulling strength and/or what is the safe amount of cable spooled on the drum necessary for safe use are part of the final test.
How many ten year old kids will be doing this type of activity, especially if they are compliant with the law, and are under the immediate supervision of an adult.
This information was added to the curriculum as the popularity of Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use has been growing in Michigan. OHV riders often run courses and designated riding areas that have rock climbing and deep mud areas as part of the challenge.
The MDNR personnel who administer the safety education for ATV/ORV use are now reconsidering the testing side of the program and will, for a period, entertain suggestions for change from the public.
They are also nearing commitment to conduct the Instructor Academy next year here in the UP. The most likely location will be at the Pocket Park Education Center and the SORVA Practical Skills Track that are both located on the UP State Fairgrounds. It should serve as better opportunity to see participation from the potential UP instructors.
Additionally, the Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association (SORVA) of Delta County has committed to participate in future ATV/ORV Classes where hands-on participation on the first of its kind Skills Track will now be required in order to pass the class. The first such class is slated for October 15, 2011. Students can have their machines trailered to the site for afternoon use on the day of the class.
Advanced registration is required by calling the Delta County Sheriff Department Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m., to 3:00 p.m., at (906)786-3633.