The Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance on Aug. 22, 2017 allowing All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) to “be operated upon any unpaved roadways in Hernando County where the posted speed limit is less than 35 miles per hour,” thus opting out of the state’s statute restricting ATVs from county roads. ATV operation is restricted to daytime hours.
During the meeting, Hernando county resident Constance Keener urged the board to support the existing 2002 ordinance which restricted (among other things) ATV operation on certain county owned properties. She also discussed the continued reckless driving of ATVs.
Ms. Keener gave a brief history of the existing ordinance, and several examples of reckless events that she’s witnessed in her neighborhood of Royal Highlands. She also mentioned concerns of littering, personal safety, and the safety of gopher tortoises, which are prevalent and protected in this area. During her conclusion, she said, “I’m not here to promote a nanny state. It is not my intent. My intent is to give you reasons why I think you should continue to support this ordinance.”
Commissioner Wayne Dukes started the discussion among the commissioners, acknowledging Ms. Keener’s concerns. Commissioner Dukes added that the riders in question are a minority, and that it would be “really hard to have the Sheriff’s Office ride up and down dirt roads trying to find an ATV doing something stupid.”
Commissioner Steve Champion agreed with Dukes, and added that that he is in favor of “rolling back regulation that restricts law-abiding citizens.” Of the reckless ATV drivers Ms. Keener spoke of, he said, “We need to call the Sheriff’s Department to enforce [already existing] laws. We can’t punish 98% of people because 2% are law-breakers.”
Commissioners Jeff Holcomb and John Allocco disagreed.
Commissioner Holcomb said, “When I see the ordinance and I hear the logic they don’t match up. Yes, rolling back regulations is a good plan, but let’s listen to the law enforcement officers what they’re saying. They’re saying it’s hard enough to administer the regulations as they are right now, you’re going to make it easier for the ATV riders, and harder on the citizens, and on the sheriff, when you actually want to call him get something done.” Mr. Holcomb further questioned the logic regarding the recent incident of a resident receiving a citation for driving a golf cart in a rural area, but not ticketing ATV riders.
Commissioner Allocco explained his disagreement by saying, “I do not want to see us become a nanny state … however, I also have a responsibility to taxpayers of Hernando county, and this is where I differ: to say the state doesn’t have a regulation regarding this is kind of disingenuous because the state isn’t required to maintain county roads that are unpaved that [have] 35 miles an hour or less speed limit. Nobody’s driving on those roads now at 35 or less. They drive in a much higher rate of speed. The tires on an ATV or not designed to be ridden on normal roads and they will cause destruction and that’s going to come back to the taxpayer and it’s going to cost us more as a county to maintain our limerock roads because we cannot afford to pave them all.”
Commissioner Nick Nicholson said of the issue, “We need to get rid of unnecessary ordinances. What we need to do to help out the Sheriff’s Office with his limited resources [and] not have his deputies being dispatched to try to give a ticket to some law-abiding citizen, once we make this not against the law to drive 35 miles an hour or less on unpaved road.” He added, “Instead, they can use the resources to go out and catch the people that are actually speeding and violating other property rights … I want to do the sheriff a favor and get rid of this unnecessary ordinance so he doesn’t have to waste his resources going out and giving tickets to law abiding citizens and I’ll make that motion.”
Commissioner Dukes called Colonel Michael Maurer of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to approach the board to discuss from a law enforcement perspective. It was agreed that that, like motor vehicles on regular roadways, violators would need to be ‘caught in the act’ in order to be charged with the violation. Colonel Maurer agreed when Commissioner Champion posed the question, “Would you agree that laws are for law-abiding people?”
Mr. Champion further illustrated that the presence of a law will not prevent crime. “Do criminals obey the law? … You’re very busy with drugs – they’re against the law. Murder’s against the law, that shoot out the other day … that’s all against the law ... all we [would] be doing is restricting good people.”
Commissioner Nicholson made the motion to amend the existing ordinance, which was seconded by Commissioner Champion. The motion carried 3-2 after a roll call vote, with Commissioner Allocco and Commissioner Holcomb voting against the motion.