Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law a bill aimed at increasing the safety of off-highway vehicle (OHV) riding and heightening the protection of natural resources on public and private lands used by OHVs by raising the minimum age requirement for OHV riding and increasing penalties for illegal riding.
"This legislation has many public benefits - improving rider safety, protecting private property and public land and safeguarding sensitive natural resources," Governor Patrick said. "I want to thank our partners in the Legislature and in the private sector for helping us take these important steps in protecting our residents and our public spaces."
"This bill focuses on the safety of people, especially children, who use these vehicles," said Senate President Therese Murray. "It holds negligent users or owners accountable and helps curb the dangerous practices that harm individuals and children."
The bill, "An Act Regulating the Use of Off-Highway and Recreation Vehicles," prohibits any use of an OHV by children under age 14. Until now, children as young as 12 could operate an OHV if supervised by an adult, and as young as 10 if they were riding on the supervising adult's private property. This new age restriction does not apply to the use of dirt bikes or snowmobiles.
This legislation also strengthens laws that protect public and private land and natural resources from illegal, or irresponsible, use of OHV's by raising the penalties for such activity. For example, the new legislation increases the penalty for driving an OHV while intoxicated from a maximum $75 fine to a maximum $5,000 fine.
In addition, the bill requires mandatory safety training for all OHV operators 18 years old and younger, creates an OHV Program Fund, supported by OHV registration revenues and fines, to improve enforcement and develop and maintain OHV trails and reduces allowable OHV noise levels. The bill also establishes an OHV Advisory Group to increase communication among OHV riders, land owners, law enforcement agencies and other interested parties.
"DCR is very pleased with this new legislation, and we thank Governor Patrick for his support," said DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. "The bill goes a long way toward making these off-road sports safer while protecting the valuable natural resources across the Commonwealth."
"This bill targets the unlawful use of snow and recreation vehicles through a comprehensive approach - mandatory safety training, strict age and engine size restrictions for juvenile use, and the creation of new fines and penalties for those who choose to operate these machines without regard for public safety. Riders who misuse these vehicles will now be held accountable for their actions," said Senator Steven A. Baddour, Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
During today's signing ceremony, Katie Kearney, the mother of 8 year-old Sean Kearney who passed away due to injuries sustained in an ATV accident in 2006, also spoke about the importance of this new law in helping to increase protections against the misuse of ATVs.
"We are very thankful today for the signing of the ATV legislation, and are confident that Sean's law will save lives," said Kearney. "We feel very fortunate to have the Senate President as our Senator. Her leadership and dedication, along with the support of Vinny Demacedo and Tom Calter as our local legislators worked together for the safety of children. We couldn't prevent what happened to Sean, but we believe this law will prevent any more children in the future from being hurt. We would like to ask everyone to smile and think of Sean when they see the number 14."
Much of the new legislation reflects the recommendations of the state's Off-Highway Vehicle Enforcement Working Group assembled by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and DCR in 2007. The group included public and private landowners, environmental advocates, OHV enthusiasts, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders.
DCR currently has 117 miles of trails open to off-highway vehicles in state parks across the Commonwealth. Of those, 84 miles are in Beartown State Forest, October Mountain State Forest, Pittsfield State Forest and Tolland State Forest in the western part of the state. Another 33 miles of trails in southeastern Massachusetts are in Freetown-Fall River State Forest and F. Gilbert Hills, Wrentham and Franklin State Forest are open to motorcycles only. For more information on OHV riding in Massachusetts, visit DCR's website: www.mass.gov/dcr/recreate/orv.htm.