Elusive ATV and dirt bike riders disrupt streets

To prevent dangerous high-speed chases, police don’t pursue riders in the city.

An ATV driver rides down Grays Ferry Avenue in 2012, while performing a wheelie. Andrew Thayer |TTN
An ATV driver rides down Grays Ferry Avenue in 2012, while performing a wheelie. Andrew Thayer |TTN

Groups of young men riding on dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles appear on North Broad Street and Main Campus on a frequent basis – and Temple Police said the drivers have not gone unnoticed.

Operating an unregistered vehicle on public roads is illegal in Pennsylvania. The issue involves public safety for pedestrians, drivers of street-legal vehicles and the law-breaking drivers themselves due to the often reckless driving of the dirt bikes and ATVs.

“Recently we had [some of these drivers] on 16th Street … an ATV that was on the sidewalk driving,” said Charlie Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services. Leone said the two people involved in that incident were arrested.

Many times the drivers are riding with unregistered vehicles. Some are even too young to have a license.

“If they’re real young, if it’s late at night, you have a curfew issue,” Leone said. “[We] call their parents to come down. You get the parents involved and that helps out a great deal because sometimes they’re not aware of what their kids are doing.”

Leone said Temple Police caught a student two years ago riding his dirt bike down the steps at the Tuttleman Learning Center.

“[His dirt bike] was unregistered, uninsured, he didn’t have a license,” Leone said. “His bike was taken away.”

Police can legally run a “live stop” on someone found operating an ATV or dirt bike. Any uninsured or unregistered vehicle, or a vehicle being operated by someone without a license, can be impounded. Since most of the vehicles are ineligible for registration, they end up being taken away.

Sometimes the impounded vehicles are stolen, which can add charges and sometimes result in jail time, Leone said.

The problem is not just on Main Campus. Philadelphia police deal with the issue in many of the city’s neighborhoods as well.

“We have confiscated 57 ATVs this year alone,” said Tanya Little, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia police. “The majority of the time, [the drivers] are not the purchasers [of the vehicle].”

The problem is difficult to curtail because officers are instructed to not chase them.

“That’s a safety issue. We don’t want people getting hurt,” Little said.

Some Temple students said they think more could be done.

“A young kid on a stolen ATV blew a stop sign and smashed into my … two-month-old brand-new car,” said Don Stewart, a senior media business and entrepreneurship major.

Stewart agreed a police chase would result in more accidents, but said he believes “the police need to have a tougher stance on the issue, however – perhaps making sure they are registered, not stolen when they can reach the person.”

Zach Rendin, a senior journalism major, said he sees them all around and even hears them at night from his home.

“It’s mainly just young kids,” Rendin said. “As long as it doesn’t infringe on people’s safety it’s not a major problem. I haven’t heard any serious injuries [to others].”

Rendin said he thinks a visible police presence would deter riders from crowded areas.

“There are bigger things to worry about,” Rendin said. “What’s better: those kids getting a [criminal] record or just turning around?”

Hundreds of people die each year in ATV accidents nationwide, according to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 100,000 emergency room treatments are reported. Approximately 13 percent of those result in the patient being admitted or transferred to another facility. Among states, Pennsylvania ranks third after California and Texas. About one in four victims is under the age of 16, according to the data.

Safety bulletins put out by CPSC say ATVs are unsafe on paved roads, which is due to their solid rear axles which make turning “difficult and dangerous.” Pennsylvania strictly limits ATV use on paved roads to emergency situations only.

Bob Stewart can be reached at robert.stewart@temple.edu

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