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Turner, Gordon, Stack Bills Regulating ATV Use Clear Environment Committee

From left to right: Senators Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex and Union; Shirley Turner, D-Mercer; and Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, listen to testimony at the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee

A pair of bills that would regulate the operation of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles and designate sites in New Jersey for ATV and off-road vehicle usage were approved today by the Senate Environment Committee.

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) is the sponsor of a bill (S-1059) that would require the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to designate three sites within New Jersey for use by all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles. The sites would be located in the northern, central and southern parts of the state and would be made available for the use of ATVs, snowmobiles, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles.

�The only public park available for these vehicles was closed last year,� Sen. Turner said. �ATV and snowmobile riders have been trying for several years to have the state designate a site for recreational use ATVs and other off-road vehicles because private sites have liability concerns. My bill would establish a process for locating and making available three such sites on public lands.�

The bill was amended in committee to encourage the DEP to look at all types of state-owned lands in addition to state parks and forests to site the riding facilities. These could include abandoned quarries, rights-of-way or other suitable lands the state could purchase for this purpose. It was approved 6-0.

The DEP commissioner would have to survey all of the state�s parks, forests and other lands to determine the best locations for off-road vehicle riding. Among the considerations would be the impacts on wildlife, natural resources, water quality, public safety and the potential impact on other recreational activities.

�If for some reason the commissioner is unable to designate three sites for ATV use within the state�s parks and forests, the commissioner will be required to submit a report to the Legislature and the Governor explaining their reasons,� Sen. Turner said.

A related bill (S-2055) sponsored by Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen) and Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), approved 5-1, would make various changes in New Jersey�s motor vehicle statutes concerning the regulation of ATVs, snowmobiles and dirt bikes and stiffen penalties for illegal riding.

The bill would require all snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes, except those operated only for use on a farm, be properly registered and numbered. It would require all current owners of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and dirt bikes to register their vehicles no later than six months after this bill�s effective date. They would have to visibly display their registration number on the vehicle.

It would also establish two new penalties for any vehicle or off-road vehicle operated on public lands in violation of a current law or regulation. The first new penalty would apply to the operators of these vehicles or off-road vehicles. For a first offense, the operator is subject to a fine of $250 to $500. For a second offense, the operator is subject to a fine of $500 to $1,000. For a third or subsequent offense, the operator is subject to a fine of not less than $1,000.

The second new penalty would authorize the enforcing agencies to impound ATVs and off-road vehicles. For a first offense, the vehicle or off-road vehicle may be impounded for at least 48 hours. The owner may reclaim it by showing proof of registration and insurance and paying a fee of $500 to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), plus reasonable towing and storage costs. For a second offense, the vehicle or off-road vehicle may be impounded for not less than 96 hours and cost $750 to be recovered. For a third offense, the impounded vehicle or off-road vehicle may be forfeited and sold at auction, and the owner shall be responsible for a fee of $1,000 payable to the DEP, plus reasonable towing and storage costs. If the owner fails to reclaim the vehicle or off-road vehicle within 30 days it may be sold at auction.

�There are those who believe the irresponsible use of these vehicles is one of the greatest threats to our natural landscape,� Sen. Gordon said. �That�s why it�s important we give law enforcement the tools they need to catch people who are riding illegally and make sure the punishment is sufficiently harsh to deter them from continuing to do so.�

The bill would also require the new owner to demonstrate to the Motor Vehicle Commission a notarized bill of sale, assignable certificate of origin, or other formal proof of ownership whenever ownership of a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or dirt bike is transferred.

�If a vehicle is destroyed, stolen or permanently removed, the owner would have to notify the MVC in writing and surrender the certificate of registration within 10 days,� Sen. Stack said.

The bill would increase the registration fees for snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles and impose a new registration fee on dirt bikes. The new registration fee would be $50 for 24 months. Registrations for ATVs, snowmobiles and dirt bikes would be valid for 24 months.

The bill would also establish an �Off-Road Vehicle Recreation Fund,� supported by an additional $10 fee imposed and collected by the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission at the time of registration, to be used by the Department of Environmental Protection for designating and maintaining a site in this State for the use of snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and dirt bikes. It would provide for the designation of numbers on these vehicles, which would have to be displayed.

The bills were also amended to tie-bar them; both must be enacted to take effect.

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