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North Country

ATV Use On Roads Boosts Economy, But Safety Group Says It Is A Risky Business




The key to the new “Ride The Wilds” ATV trails network in the North Country is allowing riders to use some roads to get into towns and reach food, fuel and lodging, thus boosting the region’s economy.  But that’s part of a nationwide trend that has some safety researchers worried.


“At this point in the United States more ATV deaths are happening on roads than are happening off-road,” says Rachel Weintraub, a researcher with the Consumer Federation of America. 

She worked on the study released earlier this year called  “ATVs on Roadways: A Safety Crisis.”

However, the idea that driving on roads isn’t perfectly safe isn’t a surprise to Derek Snowman, who is on the board of directors for the Kilkenny Trail Riders, an ATV club based in Lancaster.

“It is a risky sport and like I said whether you are on the road or on a trail you have that risk every time,” he said.

But Snowman says being able to ride short distances on roads is important to connect trails and get fuel or food.  

Without such access ATV riders would have to put their machines on trailers and tow them into town – which would also make it easier to just call it a day and go home.

New Hampshire is one of 35 states that allow ATVs to chug out of the woods and onto roads, according to the study.

Between 2007 and 2011 about 1,700 people were killed riding ATVs, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a group funded by insurance companies. More recent figures are not available.

That works out to about 340 deaths a year with an estimated 7 million ATVs in use every year.

It’s important to keep that number in perspective, said Snowman.

“It is a small percentage because there are a lot of people out there riding. There are accidents. People do get killed,” he said. “But they get killed in cars and motorcycles.”

Weintraub says that is still far too many deaths and about two-thirds of them take place on paved roads because ATVs are not designed for pavement.

“Their knobby tires, their high center of gravity, their narrow wheelbase are all factors that make them incompatible with road operations,” she said.

In fact, ATVs have labels that warn against their use on roads.

And an ATV trade association “urges that on-highway use of ATVs be prohibited.”

Weintraub says more states are allowing ATV riders to get onto their roads because they hope to increase tourism and the local economy.

And, indeed, that’s the goal for the “Ride The Wilds,” a newly developed network of about 1,000 miles of trails in Coos County.


Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR


 Using public roads required permission from select boards and in some cases, where state routes are involved, the approval of the state’s department of transportation. Typically there were discussions about safety and promises to review the policy if there are problems.

This month Lancaster is expected to consider opening a few roads to ATVs.

But letting ATVs get on roads goes against the recommendation of New Hampshire Fish and Game, says Capt. John Wimsatt.

The clash is factoring in safety with that economic growth and there is certainly a significant push to open up these roads,” he said.

But efforts have been made to keep the ATVs on low-speed roads and minimize the length of those roads, says Harry Brown, the president of the New Hampshire Off Highway Vehicle Association.

Most of those roads have a 10 mph speed limit with the maximum being 40 mph.

And using those roads is the key to a much-needed economic boost, Brown says.

Nevertheless the Consumer Federation of America would like to see officials nationwide revoke such permission, says Weintraub.

“What Consumer Federation of America is hoping for is that there will be an increased effort to oppose ATV access on roads,” she said.

Police in Gorham, Berlin and Colebrook say the ATVs generally haven’t been a problem.

However, last September, Colebrook resident David E.E. Howe died following an accident while riding on a dirt road at low speed.  Investigators say he  when he looked back over his shoulder at his family, lost control and was thrown from the machine.

In the last seven years there have been 13 ATV-related deaths around the state, according to Fish and Game.


Chris Jensen for NHPR
Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR




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