Bloomfield considering allowing OHVs on streets

Brett Berntsen

FARMINGTON — The city of Bloomfield is considering joining neighboring communities in allowing off-highway vehicles on paved streets.

Darryl Dunlap, owner of Dunlap Performance and Motorsports in Farmington, talks on April 28 about how to modify an off-highway vehicle to make it legal to drive on Farmington's streets.

Last week, the Bloomfield City Council voted to move forward on a proposed ordinance adopting a new state law that took effect in May. The law legalized OHVs on roadways with speed limits of less than 50 mph, but it provided local governments the option to opt in and set specific safety requirements. So far Aztec, Kirtland and San Juan County have each adopted policies in line with the state law, while Farmington passed an ordinance with stricter regulations — allowing larger OHVs commonly called side-by-sides, but banning four-wheelers and smaller vehicles.

Bloomfield Police Chief Randy Foster said they city’s proposed rules will mirror those of the state, which require OHVs to have headlights and taillights but impose no additional restrictions on vehicle size or type. He said the regulations are designed to be easy to enforce but still ensure safety.

“I don’t have the manpower right now to have officers out checking for little things,” he said. “We just want to make sure people are operating in an appropriate manner.”

The Bloomfield City Council will hear public comment on the proposal at its next meeting on Monday.

Supporters of the state law have argued that allowing OHVs on roads can benefit farmers and ranchers who use the vehicles to travel from field to field. Advocates also say the rule will help promote the off-road recreation and tourism industry.

Nevertheless, some groups have expressed safety concerns about the vehicles. In May, the Consumer Federation of America sent a letter to Bloomfield city officials warning of the hazards involved with driving OHVs at high speed on pavement. The group noted a propensity for OHVs to flip over due to their narrow wheel bases and high-traction tires.

All-terrain recreational vehicles are pictured April 10 in the Glade Run Recreation Area in Farmington. Some local communities have followed a change in state law to make the vehicles legal on city streets.

Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal said he also worries about OHVs operating on roadways.

“They’re just kind of dangerous,” he said.

Although he has concerns, Heal said he hasn't seen a large increase in OHVs driving around Aztec since they became street legal.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said that in the first two months since the county passed its ordinance, he hasn't heard of any problems involving an OHV. People have driven OHVs on county roads for years, he said, and the new rules provide a legal avenue to do so and may reduce incidents of drivers fleeing from police officers. Christesen said the Sheriff's Office will continue monitoring OHV use over the next year to determine if the the county should draft additional regulations.

Officials in Farmington, who took a cautious approach in implementing the sate law, maintain that their prudent approach to OHVs has been successful.

"There's not an abundance of them out there," said City Councilor Nathan Duckett, who proposed the city's ordinance. "But everything's been positive so far."

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.