Bill seeks to curb unsafe use of off-road vehicles by kids

Illegal driving prompts proposal that includes licensing, fines


Bill seeks to curb unsafe vehicle use by kids They are seen cruising throughout Anne Arundel County, down side streets and sidewalks, over yards and through environmentally delicate areas.

Driving mini-motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and similar machines is illegal in most of these areas. Yet children as young as 5 have been seen behind the handlebars of these vehicles, causing a safety hazard to themselves and others who helplessly watch them fly by, several residents testified at a County Council meeting this week.

"We will have a child killed," Hannelore Peterson, president of the Provinces Civic Association, told council members. She said she favors a county bill that would license these vehicles and impose fines on adults who allow children to drive them.

County Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat who introduced the bill, said she knows of children who have died driving off-road machines in other jurisdictions.

Her bill, similar to a measure passed last year in Prince George's County, would require a parent or guardian to register the vehicles and impose fines of up to $500 for violators. It would also empower the police to confiscate these machines.

A decal would be placed on registered off-road vehicles - a tool that Beidle said would enable residents and police to track the scores of machines and motivate their owners to operate them legally.

Such off-road vehicles are prohibited on streets and sidewalks, and Beidle said she sees her bill as an additional method to "eliminate the use of these vehicles on public roads."

The council backed Beidle's request Monday night to delay a final vote for a month as the General Assembly considers two bills that would require the registration of such vehicles by the state Motor Vehicle Administration. But Beidle has said that if the state fails to act, she will push ahead for a county vote.

The House and Senate versions, sponsored entirely by 10 members of the Baltimore delegation, would expand the definition of "motor vehicle" to include scooters, mo-peds and mini-bikes and task the MVA with registering these vehicles. Neither of the bills had made it out of committee as of yesterday.

At least eight people testified in support of the county bill Monday night, but not all council members are convinced that it will be effective or that its provisions can be adequately enforced.

Spurgeon R. Eismeier, director of the county Department of Inspections and Permits, testified that Beidle's bill would create "a mini-Motor Vehicle Administration" within his office and he expressed concern that his staff of four would be ill-equipped to handle a run of registrations.

Eismeier speculated that at least 1,000 of these vehicles are in the county. He said in a memo to the council last week that enforcing the bill could cost the county $62,000 a year.

County Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, said that money could be better used providing the police with the equipment they need to catch the bikers. Dillon acknowledged that he owns a four-wheel off-road vehicle.

Beidle noted that Prince George's County has registered nine vehicles, but she said the law has had an effect on safety there. Eismeier responded that his office could handle the registrations if the numbers were on par with Anne Arundel's neighbor. He said the state would be best-equipped to handle such a process of tracking these vehicles.

O'Brien Atkinson, president of Anne Arundel County's police union, called Beidle's bill "common-sense legislation" that provides police with the tools to track these machines and hold owners accountable for allowing underage children to ride recklessly through neighborhoods.

No officials from the county Police Department spoke Monday night, although Eismeier said that county Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan supports the House bill.

Atkinson said that officers can do little under current rules to police the use of these machines, and that the illegal riders will continue to manipulate the system. Currently, the only recourse for punishing children who illegally ride these vehicles is through juvenile court, which officials consider an ineffective tool.

"Violators will push their luck, and they will continue to push their luck," Atkinson said.

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