Madison — Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would allow children under 12 to drive more powerful all-terrain vehicles and children younger than 16 to drive small utility terrain vehicles on state trails.
Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and Rep. Adam Jarchow, the bill’s chief sponsors, say the measure is designed to continue to allow children to drive ATVs as manufacturers phase out smaller models and accommodate parents who want their children to drive UTVs instead because they feel those vehicles are safer. They say the bill will help the economy in northwestern Wisconsin, where off-roading is popular.
“This legislation will provide additional options for families to enjoy trail rides,” Harsdorf said in written comments submitted to the state Assembly’s natural resources committee during a public hearing this month. “Supporting Wisconsin’s tourism industry, keeping current with consumer demands and manufacturer trends is an important step for our state and local economy.”
Under state law, children under 12 can drive ATVs on private property under adult supervision. They also can drive them for agricultural purposes if an adult is watching. They can’t drive ATVs on roadways but can drive small ATVs — ATVs with engines no larger than 90 cubic centimeters — on state trails if they’re accompanied by an adult.
Children must be at least 16 years old and have a safety certificate to operate UTVs, off-road vehicles that resemble souped-up golf carts or dune buggies. Kids younger than 16 can legally drive them for agricultural purposes if they have a safety certificate and adult supervision.
The bill would redefine small ATVs as ATVs with engines no larger than 130cc. That change would allow children younger than 12 to drive ATVs with larger engines on state trails as long as they have adult supervision.
The proposal also would define small UTVs as those having four wheels and engines or power units no larger than 200cc. Children between 12 and 16 could drive small UTVs on state trails with adult supervision, similar to the ATV provision. They also would need a valid safety certificate.
No groups have registered in opposition to the bill, according to state Government Accountability Board records. Polaris Industries, an ATV and UTV manufacturer based in Medina, Minn., is the only group registered in support.
Paul Vitrano, vice president of global government relations for Polaris, said the company has transitioned from 90cc engines to 110cc engines because the larger models allow for different features such as fuel injection and more power.
Even if the bill becomes law, federal speed restrictions for youth ATVs would still apply, he said. ATVs for children between 10 and 13 years old must come from the factories with governors that prevent the vehicle from going faster than 15 mph. The vehicle’s maximum speed if the governor is disabled is 30 mph, Vitrano said.
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, a Madison-based child advocacy organization, didn’t immediately return voice mail and email messages Monday seeking comment. A voice mail greeting said the organization’s offices were closed until Jan. 4.
The Assembly’s natural resources committee is set to vote on the bill Jan. 6. Approval would clear the way for a full vote in the Assembly. The bill’s chances are unclear, though; spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t return emails seeking comment.