Safety con­cerns de­mand ac­tion

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion - By Linda J. New­bury Linda New­bury is the mayor of Felsen­thal in Union County, Arkansas.

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.

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