Proposal allowing ATVs on Alaska roads draws safety concerns

·2 min read

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A proposal by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration to allow off-road vehicles on Alaska roads has raised safety concerns and enforcement questions.

Currently, state law only allows people to drive off-road vehicles across roads and not on roads. The proposed policy would change regulations so that four-wheelers, snow machines and all-terrain vehicles can be driven on roads with limits of 45 mph (72 kph) or less, a designation that includes some busier roads in several communities.

Anyone riding on the road would need to be licensed, registered and insured in the state, officials said. The vehicles would need working lights, brakes and mufflers.

The governor's office has declined to answer questions about who suggested the change or why, citing concerns officials could influence public comment set to close this month, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.

Department of Administration Deputy Commissioner Dave Donley said the proposal recognizes that the state has one of the country's highest per capita ownership rates of ATVs, snow machines and other off-road vehicles.

He told the state House Transportation Committee this week that residents in rural parts of the state rely on these vehicles as cheap transportation, recreation and other purposes. He said he believes Alaska is the only state with blanket road-riding provisions. He also said some states, including Arizona, Idaho and South Dakota, provide vehicle owners the option of making off-road vehicles street legal.

The current proposal would apply to both rural communities and metropolitan areas across the state, including Anchorage.

Nathan Belz, a professor and assistant director of the Center for Safety Equity in Transportation, said the proposal conflicts with the state's strategic highway safety plan. He said off-road vehicles are not designed for asphalt and people who are involved in accidents can receive traumatic injury at twice the rate compared to if vehicles are driven on trails.

“I think these changes as proposed are potentially dangerous and ill-advised,” he said.

Some lawmakers against the proposal questioned whether standard driving tests could ensure people could safely operate off-road vehicles. Other lawmakers said they appreciated the flexibility the change would give to people who wanted to travel by snow machines instead of plowing first.

“I don’t picture this in the middle of downtown Fairbanks,” Republican state Rep. Mike Cronk said.

Donley emphasized the ability of local governments to ban off-road vehicles on roads even if the state makes it legal.

Public comment on the proposal is set to close on April 18 through the Department of Public Safety. A parallel change is open for comment via the Department of Administration through April 15.

It was not immediately known how many comments have been received from either department.

The Associated Press