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ATV age limit hits rough road

Local all-terrain vehicle riders in Southern Oregon are threatening to launch a recall against Sen. Alan Bates over a bill he co-sponsored that would bar kids under 12 from riding ATVs.

Central Point resident Patrick Bates (no relation), president of the large, local ATV club "Temporary Insandity" says his group and the local Motorcycle Riders Association are flooding Bates' office with e-mails and calls opposing the bill.

They say families already take extreme caution with their children and provide necessary safety gear and training.

Patrick Bates says the e-mails have not been returned by the senator.

"We're getting ready to put out a recall on him," Patrick Bates says. "He's not representing Southern Oregon."

John Turner of the senator's office says "we're swamped with different issues and are working on a response. A lot of the e-mails are from out of our district, too."

Senate Bill 49, which originated from Safe Kids, a nationwide safety group, seeks a ban on ATV use by children under 12. Those aged 12 to 16 would be limited to ATVs with engines of 90 cc or less.

Sen. Bates says the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, was prompted by an "upswing" of ATV deaths in the past five years and "many people, including manufacturers, are concerned and want to make a good sport safer."

An Ashland Democrat, Sen. Bates says he put his name on the bill so he could "get a chance to change it." He says he will be "sitting down with ATV owners in the next few weeks and get something acceptable to all."

The bill is in the Senate Committee on Business, Transportation and Workforce Development.

Sen. Bates says he recognizes the bill must undergo changes for farm use exclusion and in proposed age and size restrictions so youngsters can ride them safely.

But ATV enthusiasts bristle at the proposed restrictions.

"It's ridiculous and will cause more children to be hurt, because you're putting older kids on quads that are too small for them - like a grown-up riding a tricycle," says ATV owner Larry Tucker of Medford, who enjoys the sport with his two kids, David, 15, and Madison, 8.

His kids have had no accidents in four years of riding, he adds, because they were able to gain experience, get training, learn safety and gradually move to bigger quads.

"In their minds, they're trying to save kids from injury, but these restrictions are not the answer," he says. "When they're finally old enough, kids (under the new bill) won't have the experience and they'll be forced to ride a bigger quad than they're capable of handling."

Patrick Bates' wife, Lisa, says her family has invested $130,000 in ATVs, truck, trailer and equipment, developing a lifestyle that takes them to Oregon Dunes or the mountains 32 days a year. If the bill passes, that lifestyle will end, she says.

The family can't afford child care for that expanse of time and doesn't want to exclude kids from a family sport, rare in these days of individual sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding, she adds.

Patrick Bates stressed that his ATV organization is not "renegade" or anti-safety. It supports bills from state parks this session requiring vehicle titles, safety courses for kids under 15, helmets for adults (required only on minors now) and banning double-riding.

His research on child safety showed that baseball, followed by skiing-snowboarding, sent the most kids to the emergency room, with ATV riding far down the list, he says.

The bill would have a harsh effect on the economy, says Patrick Bates, what with tens of thousands of ATV users, including many coming to the Oregon Dunes from out-of-area, spending lots of money on motels, gas, meals and vehicles.

Tempers are clearly rising among ATV riders. Brad Lasniewski of Medford says, "Government has absolutely no business telling my 12-year-old daughter what she can ride. It's none of their business. Government doesn't exist to protect you from yourself."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

David Tucker, 15, of Medford and his family oppose a bill that would make it illegal for underage ATV riders to operate anything bigger than a 90 cc model such as the one pictured here. - (Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli)