Child passengers in jeeps, sandrails and side-by-side ATVs are the latest people required by Oregon law to wear helmets and safety restraints. The new law targeting Class II ATV drivers went into effect on Jan. 1.
Under Senate Bill 579, passengers under 16 years old in all Class II all-terrain vehicles are required to wear safety restraints on public lands. Senate Bill 583 requires children under 18 years riding in a Class II ATV to wear fastened, DOT-approved helmets on public lands. Riders in registered, street-legal Class II ATVs such as pickups or sport utility vehicles are exempt from Senate Bill 583.
The bills, both signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2009, amend existing laws and were designed to nip a potential problem in the bud as “side-by-side” utility vehicles such as the Polaris Ranger have become increasingly popular on public lands, said Oregon Parks spokesman John Lane.
Violation of the existing laws is a Class D violation, punishable by a $90 fine.
No Oregon laws affect ATV use on private land, Lane added.
Lane, who is ATV safety education coordinator for the OPRD, said Oregon law previously required Class II ATVs to be equipped with seat belts, “but nobody told them that they had to use seat belts until now.”
“The law was silent in regards to Class II,” Lane said. “This brings Class II to the same level as the other (ATV classes).”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported earlier this year that 116 deaths have been caused by accidents in side-by-side ATVs between August 2003 and August 2009, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Lane said no children under 16 died in Oregon while riding ATVs in 2009. Exact figures on ATV-related deaths and injuries were not immediately available from OPRD, but “there’s no question helmets will save lives,” Lane said.
Lane said he doesn’t believe it is currently an issue with most Oregon law enforcement agencies, but “we just want to make sure that those who refuse to buckle their kids do it now. There is no good reason not to buckle your kids in a Class II vehicle.”
About 20,000 Class II permits exist now in Oregon. While earlier numbers were not immediately available, Lane said the number of permits issued for Class II off-road vehicles has increased during the last decade as side-by-side ATVs have become popular.
He called the amendments a “logical step.”
OPRD last month mailed post cards to addresses where Class II permits had been issued and the department was circulating fliers to alert riders to the law changes.
“This is just a good, common-sense measure that nobody should have an issue with,” Lane said.
He said Oregon government is doing well to crack down on ATV riders.
“It’s to do everything we can to reduce injuries for youth riding any kind of ATV in Oregon, but without dampening their … sport,” he said. “We want to make sure they do it responsibly.”