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Changes needed for antiquated ORV laws

January 27, 2012
By Tim Kobasic - Outdoors writer , Daily Press

ESCANABA - The Michigan Snowmobile and Trails Advisory Council (MSTAC) is made up of citizen volunteers who are individually and collectively appointed to represent the multi-discipline trail riders; including but not limited to snowmobile, biking, equestrian, hiking, off-road vehicle, and skiing trails.

The purpose of MSTAC is to advise the Director of the MDNR and the Governor on the creation, development, operation and maintenance of motorized and non-motorized trails in the state.

Tom Dunn from Lansing, Michigan and member of the AMA District 14 and an avid enduro motorcycle rider, represents the motorized trail riders on the MSTAC Council. He also chairs a subcommittee-workgroup, the Off-Road Vehicle Advisory Workgroup (ORVAW) of other motorized trail and off-road vehicle riders who are also volunteers and appointed to provide detailed input and recommendations to this aspect of MSTAC.

Pat Brower partially represents the Upper Peninsula motorized riders, with focus on scramble areas and trail systems that are mostly utilized by larger sport utility vehicle (SUV) users in the eastern side. He is an active member of the Great Lakes Four Wheel Drive Association.

I pretty much represent the rest of the U.P. as a member of the Sportsmen's Off-Road Vehicle Association, which is now an affiliate member of the recently established Upper Peninsula ORV Trail Development Association (UPORVTDA). I am also one of the certified ATV/ORV Safety Instructors for Delta County through the Delta County Sheriff's Department.

The first meeting of the ORVAW for 2012 is slated for March and one of my first tasks is to prepare a proposal to expand the teaching curriculum for ATV/ORV safety.

Fact Box

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.

ATV/ORV safety education was re-activated in 2006, when the Michigan DNR took back responsibility from the Department of Education.

Most of the classes provided prior to then were done on a fee basis and saw poor attendance, even though it was a law that riders less than 16 years of age attend them.

Safety training was implemented back in or around 1989 when there was controversy over increasing amounts of catastrophic ATV/ORV accidents. The new system utilizes volunteers who are certified through the MDNR and offer the classes free of charge.

In the years I've been teaching ATV/ORV safety, I'd be willing to bet that well over 90 percent of the kids enrolled in the program already ride and have been doing so for quite some time. Many if not most have had good parental supervision and are attuned to most safety concepts. Unfortunately, most of the adults who are mentoring the kids have never had formal training and therefore are not aware of the laws and regulations that govern ATV/ORV use.

I would also attest to the fact that many of the laws and regulations that are in place need to be updated, as most were written over two decades ago and some have become antiquated. Moreover, a lot of the laws and regulations were put into place as a compromise with the federal government and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission when again, in 1989, they were actually considering shutting down the industry because of accidents.

We are also seeing an explosion of usage in the motorized off-road riding, not only from the smaller sized vehicle users, but those who ride the "big boy toys", the SUV's. Unfortunately the concern for the broad use and safety related information has crowded into the safety training curriculum and is causing some problems.

Safety use recommendations and the laws and regulations related to the SUV discipline are now part of the general text. Even though they are important, there are topics and questions too complicated for kids to comprehend. Most of those taking the classes are less than sixteen years of age and must be accompanied by an adult when riding. These kids are not eligible to operate a street vehicle on public land until they are licensed and it is highly unlikely that they will experience the more complex issues until years later. Even more problematic is that there is no requirement for anyone older than sixteen years of age to even take the class, so there are some who continue to slip through the cracks.

Michigan, like many other states, requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1960 to obtain safety certification before they are allowed to legally hunt. It has proven positive in helping make hunting one of the safest sports out there.

In March I will propose that Michigan establish a two tier safety training program that will require anyone born after 1989 to obtain at least the basic level of ATV/ORV safety certification. The second tier would be for those who are older than 16, and utilize public land (designated trails, routes, scramble areas and public roads that are open unless posted closed) for SUV riding. The teaching text for each will be exclusive, one being basic and the other advanced.

The program will continue to be run on a no fee basis. The MDNR has also permitted training facilities to be built so that practical application of the safety can be done. The basic skills track will have those situation stations ATV/ORV riders are most like to encounter when out riding (on designated trails, routes, scramble areas and public roadways open unless posted closed). The advanced skills track will incorporate more critical situations that have more danger potential, especially when attempting vehicle recovery.

We all want to make sure things don't get out of hand like they did back in '89 and prior. We need to be prepared for the expanded use of motorized off-road recreation and I think this proposal will work in that direction.



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