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ATVers help reshape measure to fit kids

After huge protests derailed a bill that would have prohibited kids under 12 from riding all-terrain vehicles, backers of the sport have hammered out new legislation that fits riders to vehicles by size instead of age and requires adult supervision of young riders as well as permits for riders of all ages.

Senate Bill 101 will likely have a hearing within the next two weeks in the Senate Committee on Business, Transportation and Workforce Development, chaired by Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Mount Hood. Metsger worked closely on the changes with backers of the measure as well as the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said Tom Tobey of Grants Pass, a member of the Temporary Insandity ATV club who helped lead the effort to change the original proposal.

The proposed law, which would apply only on public lands, replaces SB49, which would have prohibited youngsters from riding their own ATVs.

Opponents of SB 49 collected signatures on petitions to protest the proposal, and demonstrated against the bill in Salem. They also threatened to recall Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who sponsored the bill at the request of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing accidental childhood injuries.

Bates did not participate in drawing up the new bill, Tobey said.

Tobey's club and other Oregon ATV groups decided they would "rather regulate ourselves than have some organization outside the sport come in and do it," said Tobey. "We want to be responsible with ourselves and our children and that's what we're already doing."

The new bill would impose a "rider fit" standard that would keep children off ATVs that are too big or powerful for them, said Lindy Minten of Scio, who worked with riders from Southern Oregon to reshape the bill. It would also prevent big kids from being confined to ATVs with small motors and frames.

The rider fit standard, already used in some other states, could be easily determined by law enforcement officials by checking the clearance of the inseam while standing, along with access to pedals and brake levers, Tobey said. He said an age test would be unenforceable because kids don't often carry identification with their birth date, and many look much older or younger than their actual age.

If the bill passes, Oregon would be the first state to use the rider fit standard with no lower age limit for ATV riders, said Patrick Bates of Central Point. Bates helped organize the petition campaign against the original bill.

The bill would require riders under age 16 to be supervised by adults riding in sight of them on their own ATVs.

"In our research about the fatalities and serious injuries, we found they happened when there were no parents supervising, or the kids were illegally on roadways," said Minten.

The bill would also require rider training, which would probably include a written test as well as a four hours of hands-on training. Minten said ATV riders specifically asked that hands-on training be required in the law.

Details of the training requirements will be completed when administrative rules are created, Minten said.

Parents would be required to attend safety training with their children to learn the dangers of ATV-ing as well as the need for adult supervision of young riders and the need for helmets and other safety gear, Minten said. She noted that the national All Terrain Vehicle Association would like to see the bill become a model for other states.

Tobey added, "All the boo-hoo stories (about young rider ATV accidents), yes, they were tragic, but they were from parents using ATVs as baby sitters, like they do with trampolines"¦the people who sponsored (the earlier bill) were people who don't even ride ATV, but they want to eliminate them."

Oregon presently requires a registration sticker to ride on public lands but not a permit. Tobey said the new bill would require an operator's permit on public lands, but sets no minimum age limit for riders. State Parks staff had wanted an age limit of seven years, but that was removed in negotiations, he said.

ATV backers think the bill has a good chance of passage because it had broad input and "was not a group of single-minded people trying to push their agenda," Tobey said.

Minten predicted the journey through the Legislature would not be smooth, because ATV backers made such big waves at the start of the year.

"In any Cinderella story, there's always the pumpkin," she said. "It's not a slam dunk."

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