Chances are if you spend time hiking, birding or otherwise enjoying public open spaces, you have encountered an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or other off-road vehicle (ORV) or stumbled upon their tracks on a trail you assumed was off-limits to motorized vehicles. And probably, even if you didn’t think its presence was illegal, you were concerned about its impacts on wildlife and the trail itself and resentment toward the disruption of your peace and quiet. Maybe you were a bit frustrated to know you have little recourse when you see an ATV in a place where you know it is prohibited. You are not alone.
In a July 2007 press release, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reported that off-road crime outstrips all other violations on public lands. A coalition called Rangers for Responsible Recreation (RRR) says, "Lawless and inappropriate off-roading causes significant environmental damage, as well as reducing recreational opportunities." Violations include hit and run, reckless driving, DUI infractions and incidents of illegal off-roading on closed trails or off-limit areas. RRR is urging Congress to conduct reviews aimed at "establishing the true financial and environmental tolls that off-roading is wreaking on America’s public lands."
In our own area, ATV users have damaged trails, created noise and pollution, torn through vernal pools, disrupted sensitive nesting habitat, intimidated hikers, spooked horses, run amok over crops and even cleared vegetation to gain access to areas without trails, often trespassing on privately owned property in pursuit of thrills.
The problem has gotten far more attention in the West, where personnel shortages coupled with vast stretches of open space make it almost impossible to enforce restrictions. But we have our share of challenges in New Jersey, too, on private lands as well as public and especially in the Pinelands. We have few tools to deal with the problem and little legal muscle to back us up when we do complain. We can report the incident to park rangers or to local law enforcement officials, but whom do we report? Currently, registration tags are not required for ATVs or snowmobiles and, unless we see one being loaded onto a truck, we don’t have a license number to report. Even if we do get a license number (or a cell phone photo!) existing regulations don’t address every type of infraction and penalties are little more than a slap on the wrist.
That could all change with legislation introduced by NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (District 15) in May of this year. A4172 establishes new penalties for illegal operation on public lands and beefs up the law concerning registration, insurance and operation of ATVs and snowmobiles. Other primary sponsors at this time are Paul D. Moriarty (District 4) and Michael J. Panter (District 12). The bill was referred to the Assembly Transportation and Public Works Committee, where it now languishes.
One of the most significant provisions of A4172 empowers the DEP Commissioner to enforce all statutes, permits, rules and regulations relating to snowmobiles and ATVs on public lands and water under the jurisdiction of DEP, "including any and all lands owned, operated, managed, maintained or purchased jointly with any other party…" This would appear to include properties purchased even in part with Green Acres funding, such as those acquired by nonprofit land conservancies. Registration would be required and, as stated in another critical provision, "Each snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle…shall have a permanent registration number assigned to it…" and, "This registration number shall be permanently affixed to the snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle…" Hooray! Initial registration will also be required for a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle operated exclusively on private property. Enforcing agencies would be authorized to impound vehicles for violations and impose fines on owners: $500 for first offense, $750 for second and $1,000 for a third. In addition, fines may be imposed on the operators of the vehicles. And ATV does not just mean quads. As defined in the bill, "’All-terrain vehicle’ means a motor vehicle designed to travel over any terrain, of a type possessing between three and six rubber tires and powered by a gasoline engine not exceeding 600 cubic centimeters, but shall not include golf carts." "Off-road vehicle" means any motorized vehicle with two or more wheels or tracks that is capable of being operated off of regularly improved and maintained roads including but not limited to motorcycles as defined in R.S.39:1-1, and all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes…" This could include motorized sport bikes, motor scooters, go carts, swamp buggies and mopeds. The entire bill can be viewed at www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillsByNumber.asp.
What you can do: It’s going to take a lot of support for this bill to gain traction. There is going to be tremendous negative pressure from ORV advocates. First, thank Assemblyman Gusciora for launching A4172 and the other sponsors for signing onto it. Let them know you support the bill and ask them to do whatever they can to get the bill moving out of committee and brought up for a vote. Find their contact information at www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp. If your Assemblypersons are not already sponsors, urge them to do so. To find your Assemblypersons, search the above site by the name of your town. Write a letter to the editor but, if you do, be prepared for a retort. Finally, contact your municipality and ask if there is local legislation that addresses ORVs and ATVs. One of the things A4172 would do is add clout to a municipality’s efforts to control the use of these vehicles. Some local laws only address operation on sidewalks or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
|If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact either of the following:|