The increase in off-highway vehicle usage over the past decade has brought an increase in complaints, violations, accidents and fatalities and placed excessive demands on law enforcement agencies.
Over the past 10 years, 114 Minnesotans have died and another 9,700 have been injured in OHV incidents. OHVs include all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and off-road vehicles such as four-wheel-drive trucks.
In a first-of-its-kind joint effort, Minnesota law enforcement agencies and motorized recreational organizations will work together to promote safe, responsible and environmentally friendly use of OHVs.
Safe Wheelin' Weekend (June 3-5) will be a combined effort by the DNR, police and sheriff's departments, the Minnesota State Patrol and OHV clubs and organizations to inform OHV riders on where to ride as well as legal and safe methods of OHV operation. The initiative is to enforce existing laws and take action against those riders who give the sport a bad name.
An ATV rider in Crow Wing State Forest, for example, was issued seven tickets in one day. The violator told the conservation officer who wrote the citations that he "didn't care about the laws." In another egregious case in Crow Wing County State Forest, four men were ticketed for driving mud trucks in a lake bed. A few hours later, the men were again stopped and charged with operating an off-road vehicle off trail in a state forest and operating an off-road vehicle without obtaining off-road registration. In each instance there was substantial damage to natural resources.
Every year tens of thousands of children are sent to hospital emergency rooms with serious and often debilitating injuries from ATV accidents. According to the ATV Safety Institute, more than 90 percent of these injuries are caused by improper driver behavior.
"If a 600-pound ATV flips over on a 60-pound kid, the vehicle wins," DNR chief conservation officer Mike Hamm said. "They are not toys. ATVs can be safe if the operator has had training and is being supervised by an adult. But the reality is that a lot of kids who are being hurt are not being supervised. Parents are saying, 'It won't hurt my child.' "
But improper adult operation of OHVs results in the overwhelming majority of violations. During a recent 12-month period, DNR statistics showed that persons 18 and older committed 82 percent of the violations.
Participating Safe Wheelin' law enforcement agencies and OHV organizations will focus their efforts on DNR lands across the state. Sheriffs departments and municipal police departments will respond to accidents, trespass complaints and complaints of illegal operation on roads and rights-of-ways in their areas. The state patrol will respond to accidents and complaints of illegal operation on roads and rights-of-ways. OHV organizations will focus on visibility and education on the trails and report major violations to the DNR.
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