Dunleavy administration to allow ATVs on state roads, starting Jan. 1

A four-wheeler in Unalakeet on Oct. 24, 2019.
A four-wheeler in Unalakeet on Oct. 24, 2019.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 5:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration will allow all-terrain vehicles to drive on state roads with speed limits of 45 miles per hour or less, starting on Jan. 1.

The regulation change was announced on Friday. It will not allow Alaskans to use snowmachines or hovercrafts on state roads, which had been part of a proposed regulation package earlier in the year.

“The goal of the administration was to provide Alaskans to safely and affordably travel throughout the state,” said Deputy Commissioner Dave Donley of the Alaska Department of Administration in April.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety released a list of frequently asked questions alongside the regulation change. It details safety requirements for users of ATVs on state roads:

  • They will need to carry insurance and must follow traffic laws, but they can use their current license
  • Drivers of all-purpose vehicles don’t need to wear a helmet, but their passengers do
  • Seatbelts must be used if the APV is fitted with them, along with child restraints or car seats
  • Front and rear license plates will be required along with a headlight and brake light

State regulations currently limit use of four-wheelers to cross state roads. Proponents say expanding their legal use will align regulations with the realities of daily life in Alaska’s villages where residents have been riding them regardless of existing state law. Some local governments, like the City of Nome, already have established policies in place for use of ATVs on city roads.

But their use in urban Alaska looks to be much more contentious. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities released a list in April of roads that would be open for four-wheelers that included busy streets in cities.

The Municipality of Anchorage’s code states that off-highway vehicles cannot be driven on roadways within the municipality. Corey Young, a spokesperson from Mayor Dave Bronson’s office, said that “we are evaluating the new regulation,” when asked what it would mean in the city.

Officials from the cities of Fairbanks and Wasilla wrote to the House Transportation Committee in April in strong opposition to the regulation change. It’s likely those cities will amend their own codes to prohibit ATVs on state roads within their boundaries.

“There’s a lot of reasons to not allow it in a city,” said Deputy Chief Rick Sweet of the Fairbanks Police Department on Friday. “The reasons are all on safety. Just from a law enforcement standpoint, we just think it’s a bad idea.”

The regulation allows local governments to opt out or restrict the use of four-wheelers in their boundaries. That could be done in some cities, but that may not be possible for second-class boroughs or in unincorporated parts of the state. Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai Peninsula Borough all have limited authority to regulate what happens on their roads.

Fairbanks Mayor Bryce Ward introduced a resolution before the assembly in April, opposing the change. It passed 6-3 and cited the dangers of having four-wheelers driving on busy borough streets like Airport Way or College Road.

Nathan Belz, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at University of Alaska Fairbanks, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by Friday’s announcement and said the “opt-out” requirement for local governments would provide regulatory challenges, potentially for years to come.

His research has been informed by the state’s strategic highway safety plan that aims to reduce fatalities and injuries on Alaska’s roads.

“It is clear that the regulation changes overlook several serious and significant issues that were brought up during the public comment period earlier this year,” Belz said through a statement by email. “Allowing ‘all-purpose vehicles’ on our roads and streets ignores our state strategic highway safety goals and initiatives, disregards guidance from federal safety agencies, and overlooks crash data and trends from other states that have adopted similar regulations.”

Craig Compeau, an ATV dealer in Fairbanks, applauded the change and doesn’t agree that there are inherent safety risks with expanding where four-wheelers can be driven. Austin McDaniel, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, released a statement by email, largely in agreement.

“Most of the motor vehicle collisions that the Alaska State Troopers respond to each year are the result of a driver, not a type of vehicle. Drivers are expected to operate any motor vehicle safely on a roadway regardless of the type,” he said.

Compeau said it made sense to continue prohibiting snowmachines on state roads, but noted that at least six other states allow four-wheelers to drive on state roads and said Alaska has one of the highest rates of off-road vehicle ownership in the nation.

“If you think about it, there’s 50 states in the union here and if they only had one state where four-wheelers should be allowed on the road, it would be Alaska,” he said.

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