City Council has announced that they are taking on the issue of ATV use in Philadelphia, a long-running problem that seems to have hit a boiling point during the warm summer months this year. “There’s always an uptick in the spring and the summer and there have been a couple of close calls in neighborhoods where children’s safety has been clearly at risk,” Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said today. “And we don’t need to read a news report of a child being killed by an ATV vehicle and we haven’t done anything. Then we’re in a ‘wish I coulda shoulda woulda’ stage.”
It is already a fineable offense under state law to operate an ATV on the streets. Brown today introduced a bill on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration that would, for the first time, penalize ATV use on city land, establishing consequences for driving or even parking, stopping or standing an ATV on a public sidewalk or property. “Now, police officers will have the authority to confiscate the vehicles, if that vehicle is found to be in violation of the ordinance and / or impose a $2,000 fine,” Brown said.
The proposed legislation also addresses a frustrating catch-22 police face when it comes to the enforcement of ATV use. Four-wheelers are legal to own in Philadelphia, but not to operate, so officers can’t simply seize a parked ATV when it’s not in use. At the same time, they can’t pursue a speeding ATV due to the department’s no-chase policy. “We’re not going to chase an ATV unsafely,” Deputy Commissioner Thomas Wright said in August, citing the safety of both officers and other motorists. “We utilize police tactics and best practices.”
Those practices include a series of sting operations carried out at several popular riding locations over the summer. Using a combination of community tips and investigative police work, police seized at least 59 four-wheelers in the East and Southwest Divisions during the month of August alone. “There are certain things we do that are much to our advantage that we will continue to utilize, like covert intelligence and some other activities that will allow us to pursue them in a safe way,” Wright saidafter one such ATV bust.
But don’t discount that public ATV park just yet – the councilwoman said the legislation is just one piece of a larger, comprehensive initiative. Brown still plans to hold hearings soliciting feedback about alternative solutions to accompany the proposed penalties. “Through the hearing, we’re going to hear from those who ride ATVs,” she said. “They have a voice in this solution, so we’re going to hear from those who actually recreate this way, because it’s a collective resolution that we’re looking for.”