ATV accidents, disputes decline

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Accident rates and disputes involving all-terrain vehicles in Maine have declined in recent years amid a growth in ATV clubs that reach out to landowners and encourage riders to learn and obey the rules governing their sport.

“Some of the most vigilant eyes out there are other ATVers, said Paul Jacques, deputy commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “Peer pressure is really the biggest factor.”

Jacques recalled that when he took his job in 2003, he was getting 15 to 20 calls, e-mails or letters a month detailing feuds between landowners and riders who would take their vehicles across cropland, front yards and sensitive wetlands, even using them to chase wildlife.

Almost four years later, Jacques is seeing fewer complaints. With the exception of one area in southern Maine where there is an active disagreement between ATV riders and land owners, he recalls getting only two or three complaints in the past year.

Officials credit changes in the law that shifted more responsibility onto ATV riders and, in the process, encouraged the growth of ATV clubs that work with the state to build trail networks and police riders.

Another cause for optimism is the second drop in ATV accident rates in as many years, a break in a pattern of steadily increasing accidents that goes back to the 1980s. The change came about after the state implemented a number of recommendations suggested by a task force established in 2003 by Gov. John Baldacci. They included a requirement that ATV riders obtain permission from landowners before riding on their land, additional law enforcement and the use of registration fees to build and maintain more trails.

The changes, while unpopular with many riders at first, have helped the sport expand, state officials and ATV association members say. More trails are available statewide, especially in northern areas where businesses hope to reap economic benefits from the growing sport.

Not only have the number of accidents dropped since 2004, but the number of injuries has also decreased to 267 in 2005, and 242 in 2006. Registrations declined from 66,044 in 2004, to 62,964 in 2005 but have remained fairly steady in 2006 at 62,268.

Over the past five years, the number of active ATV clubs has roughly tripled, while the number of marked trails has roughly doubled, said Kevin Ward, vice president of ATV Maine, an organization which represents clubs.

“ATVing is surpassing the snowmobile industry because we can ride these machines seven or eight months a year,” he said.

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