Safety concerns demand action
Editor’s note: The town of Felsenthal will consider new regulations concerning the use of off-road vehicles such as ATV’s at its next regular meeting Tuesday. The following column, submitted by Felsenthal Mayor Linda Newbury, explains the council’s reasoning for the policy change and invites the public to view the proposed ordinance on the town’s Facebook page.
Felsenthal: the “Resort Town” where everyone rides around on ATV’s, golf carts and such like. A place for fun and sport. Fishing and hunting draw many more than our census-derived population of 152 souls. Opening morning of duck season, for instance, can draw as many as 500 people into our town. Each camp here has at least one, and sometimes several, “off-road” vehicles that are used recreationally on our streets and in the woods surrounding our town year-round.
A scant 15 years ago, small children rode these vehicles in and around town with their parents’ blessings without much negative effect. Parents turned their kids loose to explore and ride in the woods and the park. Weekends in Felsenthal represented paradise for many families, especially those with children. Bearing bad tidings is not in my nature, but I am convinced that I must address the potential harm that is staring us in the face. More and more children, who are younger and younger (some as young as 4 or 5 years old) are riding more and more powerful “off-road” vehicles on our streets. Way too many times, there are no adults present to supervise of these children. Why is that such a problem?
A few years ago, a young boy who I knew and had taught, was killed in a four-wheeler accident in Huttig, just a hop and a skip from Felsenthal. Tragic! A truly bright future cut way too short. At that time, we considered some action, but it just was too hard to do — How does a town forbid the riding of off-road vehicles when it has been a tradition for generations now?
So, we tabled the discussion and went on. As our streets and roads have been improved, we have noticed that the four-wheelers have become more powerful. They are far faster and, consequently, much more dangerous on the road than before. Still, we hesitated.
It might be noted, as well, that as brain studies have opened windows in the learning community, these studies have also discovered that the decision-making processes of young people, which are centered in the frontal cortex, are not fully mature until early adulthood. That means that considering consequences is not a priority in youth. It seems our technology that produces these powerful machines may be outstripping our abilities to use them wisely. Many parents, remembering their own youths spent recreationally here in Felsenthal, want their own children to have the same freedoms and fun that they did as children. I believe this is a recipe for disaster, considering current situations.
Additionally, our drainage system here has been occasionally damaged by unaccompanied children (and sadly, by some adults as well). Our ditches must remain free of ruts and potholes to keep water draining properly. Floods happen regularly enough without adding to the problem by damaged and obstructed drainage. It costs the town money to install new culverts, the openings of which have been crushed, or to dig out ditches that have been rutted and muddied up.
Finally, the voices of reason have risen up and demanded some action. To whit: we will vote on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at our regularly scheduled council meeting to limit the use of these vehicles in our town.
The full text of the proposed ordinance can be found on our Facebook page — Town of Felsenthal. Please take a look. We have adopted most of the wording from other small towns that want to limit the use of golf carts and ATV’s. Children without direct adult supervision will not be allowed to drive these vehicles in our town. Drivers must be licensed or permitted. Smaller children who are allowed to drive MUST be directly accompanied by an adult, licensed driver.
Common sense must be our guiding principle here. We must protect our children. Surely, there is a compromise between unfettered fun and complete restriction.