From unlawful to legal

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

PLYMOUTH CO. — A new law in Iowa which took effect July 1 has taken away local control previously held by elected county officials.

House File 2130 allows any registered ATV/UTV vehicle to be operated in all 99 counties of Iowa as long as the following laws are met:

• The vehicle is driven at a maximum speed of 35 MPH.

• The driver is at least 18 years of age and holds a valid driver’s license and carries valid proof of insurance.

• The vehicle has operational headlights, tail and break lights, horn and rear view mirror at all times.

• A registered ATV/UTV vehicle may only be operated on a state (primary) highways that is not a divided highway (4 lane such as Highways 75 and 60) or Interstate road system.

• The operator can only drive on state two lane highways over the most direct and accessible route to and from an ATV park or trail, to the nearest county road, or an authorized city street or their residence.

• Operators can cross a state divided highway (4 lane) at an intersection from an authorized road as long as it is not an Interstate highway.

• A registered ATV/UTV vehicle may be operated on any county unpaved gravel road.

• Operators can only drive on county paved highways provided that they take the most direct and accessible route to and from an ATV park or trail, the nearest county gravel road, an authorized city street, or their residence.

• A registered ATV/UTV can not drive on any road that is marked under construction, closed, or a detour for normal vehicle traffic.

Ag-Related Law

Prior to the implementation of House File 2130, Plymouth County Sheriff Jeff TeBrink said the only law in place regarding all-terrain vehicles was targeted to agricultural uses only.

“It only allowed them to operate on roadways for agriculture purposes to and from their farms, to and from gas stations to get fuel for their farms, checking fences and checking cattle,” TeBrink said. “This law is still in effect.”

Pressure Mounts, State Gives In

TeBrink said pressure had been put on the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors over the years to allow ATV/UTVs on its roadways, many other counties across the state felt that same pressure.

“We’ve had meetings regarding that subject over the years, however the majority of the board of supervisors were against them,” TeBrink said regarding the issue at a local level.

Plymouth County Board of Supervisor Craig Anderson weighed in on the newest law passed by the state legistation.

“I realize the convenience of the legislature making one law for all 99 counties so that the citizens and law enforcement can keep track of what and where we are all at on the law regarding ATV/UTV but I disagree that we need these added to the road use,” Anderson said.

“I personally have a 4-wheeler and a UTV which I use in my farming operation and find them useful but I also have run equipment all of my life and recognize the potential danger. These vehicles are clearly marked ‘not for road use’, so anyone that buys them has already been notified that the manufacturer does not consider them safe for road use.”

While Plymouth County was one that chose not to allow ATV/UTVs on its roadways, other counties, including neighboring Sioux County, had changed their stance prior to the law being put in place.

“Over the years we found out a lot of the counties were passing ordinances because a lot of the people owning these vehicles were putting pressure on their county board of supervisors to pass an ordinance so they could use them on the roadways,” TeBrink said. “I think that pressure was also felt at the state level.”

While the state changed the law surrounding the off road vehicles, TeBrink said it is important operators understand that it’s not a free for all.

“You are allowed to travel on paved county blacktops to get to your residence or to get to the next gravel road, however what the state wants is they don’t want ATV or UTVs driving from Westfield to Akron for no reason. If they’re going from Westfield to Akron they need to find the most accessible gravel roads and take the route,” TeBrink stated.

Change Is Good and Bad

Just like any change, TeBrink said this too comes with negatives and positives.

“It’s one more vehicle on the roadways,” TeBrink said of the potential negative. “In regards to safety, especially an ATV traveling at 35 mph could cause a potential problem for a motor vehicle traveling at 55 mph and meeting them coming up over a hill crest.

“It’s kind of like motorcycles. We always say look twice for motorcycles because they’re smaller vehicles, just like an ATV. We just ask that everyone is cautious and looks twice when they come to an intersection,” he added.

While the safety concerns increase with more ATV/UTV’s on the roadways, TeBrink said by allowing them on roadways he is hopeful one complaint his office takes will decrease.

“Prior to the law one of our main complaints was trespassing because people would go driving on private property to get to a public area because they weren’t allowed to drive on the public road. I think it’s now going to cut down on the trespassing companies because they can take a gravel road from Point A to Point B to be able to get to where they want to go instead of cutting across someone’s cornfield or pasture,” TeBrink shared.

Anderson was one of those in the county who had experienced trespassing firsthand.

“My own experience as a land owner is that some users of these vehicles tend to view a farmer’s property as their playground,” he said. “I have had land that has had constant trespass to the point of users putting up road signs and building bridges across creeks to hot rod on my crop ground and destroy wildlife habitat.”

All Comes Down to the Operator

In the 19 days since the law has been in effect, TeBrink said his office has not received a single complaint regarding an ATV or UTV.

“It all depends on the individual driver. If they’re responsible it shouldn’t be an issue. However, if they’re irresponsible, it’s the same as someone being irresponsible in a car. If they’re driving carelessly or recklessly they’re endangering themselves and other people and that’s the same we get with motor vehicles,” TeBrink stated.

Laws Will Be Enforced

Any infractions that occur, including exceeding the 35 mph speed limit, being an operator under the age 18, and not carrying a valid ID or failure to have the ATV/UTV registered, will result in fines, TeBrink noted.

“We’ll enforce the law the same as if it were a motor vehicle. If it’s a speeding ticket, it’s the same as if it were a motor vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a motorcycle, ATV, car or semi, they all fall under the same code section,” he said.

“Drive responsible,” TeBrink concluded. “If you’re going to drive irresponsibly, the traffic laws will be enforced.”

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