SOUTH SIOUX CITY | All-terrain and utility-type vehicles will be merging into traffic on city streets here after the City Council approved the move Monday without discussion.
The ordinance, which takes effect Dec. 1., passed 7-0. Councilman Wayne Boyd left the meeting before the vote.
Drivers must be 18 or older, have a valid driver's license or farm permit and obtain an annual permit from the city clerk. The city permit will allow them to take the vehicles on streets, but not highways, between sunrise and sunset and travel at speeds of 25 mph or less.
Drivers and passengers will be required to wear a helmet, and the driver must have insurance. The vehicle must also pass inspection, including a noise test, to make sure the vehicles don’t disrupt neighborhoods.
Randy Meyer, of South Sioux City, spoke against the ordinance at the council's Oct. 22 meeting. He said he was concerned about noise and the city's image.
He did not attend Monday's meeting but said later by phone that the ordinance addresses his worries about noise but not about how the city of 13,000 might be portrayed.
"I don't necessarily believe that it's the right direction for the city. We are a growing city, moving forward. This is moving back to a little hick town," he said.
The state of Nebraska passed a law in 2007 allowing cities to decide whether to permit ATVs and UTVs on public streets. Since then, a handful of Nebraska towns have passed similar ordinances, including Fremont, which has about 26,000 people, and David City, with about 2,900.
Dan Nitzel, business manager of the Nebraska Off Highway Vehicle Association, estimates the number of towns with ATV/UTV ordinances at around 30.
The association has roughly 2,000 members and keeps tabs on issues and regulations involving ATVs and off-road motorcycles.
Nitzel, who lives in Grand Island, Neb., said there are pros and cons to the ordinances.
"The manufacturers don’t support the use on public streets or roads. But it’s nice to have other places to ride, since Nebraska has so few public places open to the vehicles. It gives people another way to enjoy their machines," he said.
South Sioux City police Chief Scot Ford, who spoke with officials in towns with similar ordinances, said there weren't any major safety issues. But he was concerned about allowing the vehicles on the streets alongside cars and trucks.
“They are a little slower moving vehicle, so they are going to require the rest of the motoring public to recognize them and be on the watch for them,” he said.
There were more than 600 ATV-related deaths and more than 130,000 emergency room visits nationwide in 2009, according to a government report. But Ford said most ATV accidents occur off-road.
“When you are operating any vehicle in an unregulated fashion, off the road where there are no speed limits or laws, sometimes people get reckless and that’s where accidents happen. As long as the ordinances and regulations are followed, there shouldn't be an issue,” he said.