After nearly two months of ATVs and UTVs being allowed on roads overseen by Dubuque County, law enforcement officials report few problems, while at least one restaurant owner has seen a modest rise in rider patronage.
The ordinance allowing all-terrain and utility vehicles on all but 16 stretches of county roads went into effect Sept. 11. The move followed months of debate between enthusiasts and those concerned about safety risks associated with the decision.
Chief among that latter group were local law enforcement agencies, including Sheriff Joe Kennedy. However, his department so far has responded to no crashes involving the vehicles.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” said Capt. Harley Pothoff.
He said that could be because the use of the vehicles on roadways still is ramping up.
“We haven’t really encountered many people riding as of yet,” Pothoff said.
The sheriff’s department also hasn’t cited any riders for ordinance violations. However, the department has received calls about drivers lacking flags or riding after the sunset cutoff.
The only citation so far has been for criminal mischief to county property, given when two riders damaged recently laid gravel on Weber Road south of Dubuque with their ATVs.
Riders must register their vehicles in Iowa, fly a 6-foot-tall orange flag on the vehicles and have headlights and taillights. Driving only can occur from 5 a.m. to sundown.
Sherrill, Iowa, resident Laura Hammel rides ATVs with her family and friends and said they were quick to comply with the rules.
“We went out as soon as they announced the rules, got all the equipment they needed,” she said. “We were excited. We have everything. We never had (the vehicles) registered here in Iowa because you couldn’t ride them on the roads here. We did use to buy passes, though, to ride in Wisconsin.”
Hammel said her family, friends and neighbors have fully embraced the opportunity.
“I see them all over Sherrill,” she said. “They are up and down on Balltown Road. We usually travel in groups. We have quite a few friends with four-wheelers. We’ll take the day, take a ride, grab lunch.”
Jeff Breitbach owns The Barn in Sherrill. He said the business has become a destination for groups riding ATVs and UTVs since the ordinance took effect.
“We’ve had several groups come through — some locals, but there are definitely some new faces,” he said. “They aren’t from too far away, just other parts of the county. They don’t usually make it to Sherrill. This gives them a reason to get out this way. (There have been) several Saturdays where there’re five, six, seven or eight (ATVs) sitting out there.”
This was one of the positives pushed by supporters of the ordinance change — benefits for rural businesses.
Hammel said she has seen few problems with drivers of traditional road vehicles.
“It seems like most are OK,” she said. “There have been a few times, if we’re on a 45 mile-per-hour road but only allowed to go 35 miles an hour, that might have agitated people. But as long as we can get to the side, it’s fine.”
County supervisors are considering a group of marketing options for a planned safety education campaign. Representatives from Northeast Iowa Community College presented four concepts for a billboard, brochure and sticker package with uniform design at a meeting last month.
Once the supervisors approve the look and logo of the education program, it should be launched in January.
The ordinance sunsets in 2022, giving supervisors the chance to review any impacts before deciding whether it should continue.