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Politics

Bethel City Council passes law allowing ATVs on Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway

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Dean Swope
/
KYUK

Bethel City Council voted unanimously to continue to allow ATVs alongside other traffic on all roads in the city, including Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway. ATVs have been legal to drive on all state highways with a maximum speed of 45 mph since January 2022, when a new state law took effect. Now, they are also legal under city law after Bethel City Council amended the municipal code on May 25.

Council members who supported legalizing ATVs on the highway said that they’re an economical way for people to get around. The price of a new ATV is much cheaper than a new car. Council members who opposed ATVs on the highway said that they were dangerous and caused deaths.

The council adopted several amendments to try to appease both sides of the debate. The new amendments allow the ATVs on the highway, but with added safety considerations.

Vice Mayor Conrad “CJ” McCormick made an amendment that does two things. First, it requires ATV drivers and passengers to wear helmets. Second, it limits the number of passengers to the maximum capacity stated by the manufacturer. That means riding in the back cargo rack of an ATV will be prohibited. Council member Mary “Beth” Hessler made the second amendment. It allows ATVs to drive at the same speed as other vehicles. Previously, ATVs were required to drive at 15 miles per hour, which is 30 mph less than the speed limit for cars on the highway.

ATV drivers must continue to follow other state laws, too. They must carry insurance and registration for their ATV, and they need to carry a valid driver license.

Despite voting to pass the law with its amendments, council member Mary “Beth” Hessler had concerns that the new laws would be difficult to enforce. She advocated for education and signs.

“Coming to Watson's Corner where four wheelers will cross over their lane and go through with no stopping, and other stop sign areas is where I notice. Signage might make up all the difference,” Hessler said.

She directed her comments to McCormick, who sits on the Commission for Public Safety and Transportation.

“We can certainly do that, and I can also confirm that we’ve had conversations about the importance of education in tandem with this,” McCormick said.

The council member who has been most outspoken against ATVs on the highway, Rose "Sugar" Henderson, was not in attendance for the meeting.

Also during the meeting, the Bethel City Council introduced its Fiscal Year 2023 budget. The council has been reviewing the proposed budget in meetings since April. There are no major changes proposed to the city’s operating budget from last year. The general fund operating budget is currently set at $12,573,924. That’s $187,058 higher than last year. The council is expected to vote on the budget during its next meeting.

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