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Veto urged for bill to let off-road vehicles use paved roadways

SANTA FE – National consumer advocates – including a federal official who once served in the New Mexico Legislature – are urging Gov. Susana Martinez to veto legislation that would allow off-highway vehicles on paved roadways.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Joseph Mohorovic told Martinez in a letter this week that off-highway vehicles are “intrinsically unsafe” on paved roads and that the state should not enable “an inherently dangerous choice.”

The Consumer Federation of America and the trade associations representing all-terrain vehicles and recreational off-highway vehicles also urged Martinez to veto Senate Bill 270.

Mohorovic told the Journal on Tuesday that the unusual alliance of a Consumer Product Safety Commission official, consumer groups, and industry groups opposed to the legislation “is a sign of just how bad this idea is.”

Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, began as a blanket go-ahead to operate off-highway vehicles on paved streets or highways unless local ordinances prohibited it.

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It was altered in the legislative session’s final hours to say local governments would have to opt in, by passing ordinances, before it would be allowed. The final version also says the State Transportation Commission would decide whether to allow the vehicles on state roads.

Neville said it’s a popular proposal in his district, where farmers often get on roadways going from field to field.

“It’s already being done to some degree anyway. … This would at least make it legal,” Neville told the Journal.

Neville said there is significant support from tourism-related businesses as well. He said that in his area, for example,visitors could get from motels to ATV trails without having to haul their ATVs, and off-road vehicles could be used to get anglers and their gear from fishing lodges to lakes and rivers.

“It’s a total local option. Each city and county can adopt rules that meet their particular needs,” the lawmaker said.

The legislation requires safety equipment such as headlights, taillights, brakes and mirrors, and operators would be required to wear eye protection and helmets.

But Mohorovic and the Consumer Federation of America said ATVs and other off-highway vehicles are not designed for paved roads – buyers are told to avoid them – and pavement can seriously affect handling and control. They’re at a higher risk for rollovers, they said.

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“No helmet will prevent a rider’s spine from being crushed by half a ton of overturned ATV,” Mohorovic wrote in an op-ed published in today’s Journal.

According to the Consumer Federation of America, ATV crashes on roadways account for more than 60 percent of ATV-related deaths and over 30 percent of serious ATV injuries. ATV-related fatality statistics for public roads from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed 3,411 deaths from 2004 to 2013, the federation said.

A spokesman for Martinez said her office is still reviewing legislation. She has until March 9 to decide on bills from the 30-day session that ended Thursday.

Mohorovic, a Republican, represented an Albuquerque district in the state House from 1999 to 2002, when he resigned to become special assistant to Hal Stratton, a Republican former New Mexico attorney general who at the time was chairman of the CPSC.

Mohorovic later worked for a product testing firm, was nominated by President Obama as a CPSC commissioner in 2013, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2014.

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