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UTVs may become street legal

DICKINSON - Certain off-highway vehicles may soon be legal to drive on Dickinson city streets.

Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel said the type of vehicle being considered is called a utility terrain vehicle (UTV), or a Class III off-highway vehicle.

The first reading of the proposed change in city ordinances took place at the Dickinson City Commission meeting this past Tuesday.

Rummel said the second reading is to be scheduled for the next city commission meeting, which is on Aug 4. He expects the city commissioners to accept the proposal.

Rummel added that North Dakota state law already allows the vehicles to be driven on roads outside city limits.

"The only roadway they can not drive on is interstate," Rummel said.

He said individuals are currently allowed to use UTVs in town, but there are limitations.

"I allowed UTVs to drive from their residence to the city limits on the most direct route. That was the most that any of these vehicles could drive on our city streets," Rummel said. "They had to stay off four-lane highways ... and they would have had to stay off any roadway in the city that was not 25 mph."

Dickinson's Tim Winch, a UTV owner, has been working with Rummel and other city officials to change the city code to allow UTVs to be able to drive on all city streets.

"We're adopting much of the same language out of the state code, which is already in place in our city ordinance and just allowing this particular Class III vehicle to ride on our city streets," Rummel said.

Winch said the biggest reason he is pushing for this change is because of gas prices.

"I can save about $150 to $200 a month if I could drive these," Winch said. "It's just a cheap vehicle to run."

Rummel agreed that changing the ordinance could potentially save Dickinson residents money on their gas bill.

"Everybody is looking for alternative ways to save on fuel costs," Rummel said.

He added that he believes UTVs are safe to drive on city streets.

"The biggest difference between the UTV and ATV is the fact that it is included with safety equipment such as headlights, tail lights and break lights and mirrors," Rummel said. "It comes with seat belts and usually a roll bar."

He added that the vehicles have bucket seats, instead of "saddle" seats like most ATVs have. They also have steering wheels instead of handle bars.

"They're just a bigger, heavier ATV," Rummel said. "The wheel span is wider, which makes them more stable and because they are bigger and have all the necessary equipment ... it makes them ... much safer than an ATV."

Although UTVs are similar to golf carts, there are differences.

"It's bigger than a golf cart. It goes much faster than a golf cart and it is gas powered," Rummel said.

Winch said some models can go up to 60 mph.

"They're not going to slow down traffic," Rummel said.

He added that if the commission passes the proposal, individuals operating UTVs will have to follow the same rules as if they were driving a traditional vehicle. They would also be required to license and insure the UTVs.

"I'm hoping that the operators will follow the rules of the road," Rummel said.

He said that he doesn't expect people to use the UTVs for recreational activities.

"What we're hearing from the owners of these types of vehicles is that they just want to be able to ride them back and forth to work," Rummel said.

He added that he has not heard any opposition to idea, but he may encounter a few problems if the commission passes the proposal.

"The drawback may be that people who own ATVs will probably want the same considerations," Rummel said. "At this point in time we will not consider the ATVs or other off-road vehicles ... I think we have to take it one step at a time."