Off-roading in Imperial County may look different come Jan. 1, but a final plan has yet to be settled on.
A new law calls for the state to redefine recreational off-road vehicles, specifically utility task vehicles or two- and four-person four-wheel drive off-road vehicles, as well as establish safety measures for the UTVs.
One of the issues that will affect a number of people is the requirement for everyone in the vehicle to wear a safety helmet, said Nicole Nicholas Gilles, executive director of the American Sand Association.
The sand association has been working with Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, who authored the bill to put supplemental language in to amend the law, Gilles said. A lot of the specifics about what will be in the amendment isn’t yet known. More information will be coming out next week.
Even if just a portion of the new law goes into place, it could have an impact locally.
“I think that if there’s a lot of regulations on the way people recreate that could affect the ridership,” she said.
That, in turn, would have an affect locally.
“We’re talking millions and millions of dollars,” she said. “If you think about it, take for instance a holiday weekend, the population of the dunes is bigger than the entire population of Imperial County. So of course it has a huge impact.”
Each off-roader group can spend hundreds of dollars at grocery stores, a lot on gasoline, and even more on buying parts or being towed, Gilles said.
“That’s why we want to do everything we can to make sure people still come out, patronize our businesses and make it a safer environment,” she added.
There are some who feel there is going to be a great deal of impact with the new regulations. Brian Havens, general manager at Imperial Valley Cycle Center, said he thinks people are going to think a lot harder on whether to purchase something like a UTV. More than likely, the cycle center will feel an impact, whether it be from those who haven’t ridden before being scared off or those who are riders coming in to ask more questions before making a big purchase.
Chip Corfman, also with the cycle center, added that he’s waiting for the revisions that will be coming out. The law as written makes it hard to enforce and almost seemed to have been shot-gunned through the process.
While longtime motorcyclist and former race organizer Gary Peacock hadn’t heard of the new law specifically, he understands some of the reasoning behind it. As a rider, he would say less regulation is better. But as a promoter he can see how liability would come into play.
The new rules may be all about liability, especially after the accident in Johnson Valley where eight spectators at the California 200 race died, he said. After racing for years in Baja California where it’s common to see people jump out in front of vehicles, Peacock said he understands there are real safety concerns.
Requirements have gotten stricter since he started setting up races, he said. And he agrees that safety improvements should grow as new technology is introduced, he added.
“You want to go out there and have fun on these things,” he said. “You don’t want to end up on a helicopter going to an emergency room.”
There is a limited window in which any revisions of the law can go into place, according to information from Assemblyman Cook’s office. Any additional clarifying bills have to be passed before the state legislature adjourns Aug. 31.
The changes being discussed include guaranteeing that in January people will still be able to ride with their kids in seats put in after the vehicle was purchased and removing the provision dealing with a passenger’s feet having to touch the ground.
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3441.
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