City eyes new law allowing ATVs on paved roads

Farmington and San Juan County may soon implement ordinances concerning a new state law that allows all-terrain and off-highway vehicles on certain paved roads

Brett Berntsen
Dustin Lauritsen, a technician with Dusenbery Inc., talks on Monday about the Can-Am Commander Max-XT model on display at the corner of West Chaco Street and South Park Avenue in Aztec.
  • A state law that goes into effect in May allows all-terrain and off-highway vehicles on more roads.
  • The law allows municipalities to decide whether to opt in and let them draft additional rules.
  • Ordinances on the law will likely soon appear before Farmington and San Juan County officials.
  • Officials say the new law could boost tourism, attracting more recreational enthusiasts to the area.

FARMINGTION — Drivers throughout San Juan County may have to share the streets with all-terrain and off-highway vehicles this summer as officials kick off a discussion about implementing a new state law.

On March 9, Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a bill that allows ATVs and OHVs on roads with speed limits of 55 or less. The law allows municipalities to decide whether or not to opt in and adopt the law, letting them create specific speed and safety regulations.

Although the law doesn’t go into effect until mid-May, many residents who enjoy off-roading said they are eager to start the dialogue.

At the Farmington City Council meeting Tuesday, Councilman Nathan Duckett will propose drafting an ordinance to establish city-specific rules. Duckett said it’s too early to get into details, but he wants to build on the state law, which requires the off-road vehicles have similar features as motorcycles, including mirrors, headlights and horns.

The new law aims to provide agricultural workers and recreational enthusiasts an avenue to legally carry out daily activities, according to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec.

Currently, farmers and ranchers can receive citations for driving an ATV on a paved road as they travel between fields, Neville said.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec

Darryl Dunlap, owner of Dunlap Performance and Motorsports in Farmington, called the law a victory for his industry. He said it could create a vibrant new economy in Farmington, which is home to the Glade Run Recreational Area, a 19,000-acre off-road playground of slick rock and sandy arroyos.

“Other states around us have this type of (law), and we’re losing tourists to that,” Dunlap said.

If off-road vehicles were allowed on city streets, people could drive straight to trailheads from their homes or hotel rooms, Dunlap said. His business could also start renting the vehicles without the hassle of trailers or delivery services.

All-terrain recreational vehicles are pictured Sunday in the Glade Run Recreation Area in Farmington.

While residents of many rural areas in the state have echoed support for the new law, critics have raised the concerns about safety.

Joseph Mohorovic, a member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, voiced opposition to the new law in a column published in the Albuquerque Journal in late February.

The former New Mexico lawmaker cited specialized off-roading tires and solid rear axles as tipping hazards for ATVs.

“Using these vehicles on public roadways is an intrinsically dangerous choice,” Mohorovic wrote in the opinion piece. “It exposes not only the rider but every New Mexican on the roadways to risks that simply cannot be mitigated.”

Neville said the law allows individual cities and counties to create their own rules to address safety concerns. Every place is different, he said, but in rural areas like San Juan County the benefits are clear.

“If you’re in Albuquerque, it might not be a good idea,” Neville said. “But here we’re not looking at riding them up and down Main Street.”

Dustin Lauritsen, a technician with Dusenbery Inc., talks Monday about an all-terrain vehicle he is repairing at his garage in Aztec.

San Juan County officials and local law enforcement have discussed the new law, said County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter. The county attorney is drafting an ordinance concerning the new law, and it will likely be presented at a county commission meeting in the next few weeks, Carpenter said.

San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen said he fully supports the law and expects the county to opt in.  If properly implemented, clear rules and regulations could improve safety, Christesen said. Right now, driving ATVs on paved roads can create dangerous situations.

“Sometimes, when they see a police officer they take off,” Christesen said. “We definitely don’t want that.”

In the future, the law could also provide Farmington an opportunity to grow its tourism industry.

Tonya Stinson, executive director of the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her office would like to see the city embrace ATVs and make a name for itself within the sport.

One such opportunity will come in September, when the World Extreme Rock Crawling Championship Series holds its national championship at Glade Run.

Stinson said if the area continues to attract high-profile events, several sectors stand to benefit.

“That’s a lot of people coming into community and spending money,” she said.

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