It is illegal in the state of Pennsylvania to ride dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, on city streets.
But Carrick resident Donna Williams said that hasn’t stopped a group of teenagers from tearing down Kirk Avenue on their dirt bikes and ATVs.
Williams said the young men also have made a habit of riding their vehicles in Birmingham Cemetery.
“There was a funeral taking place in the cemetery that’s right behind our house, and the gentlemen (riding the dirt bikes and ATVs) would come through the little opening they cut through the fence,” Williams said. “They almost ran over Bishop Doyle.”
Williams said she has repeatedly called the police about the problem, but that the penalties for riding on the street do not deter the behavior.
“One of the attitudes was, ‘What are you going to do, fine me? I’ve already got a stack of fines,’” said Williams. “To me that just means that they’re irresponsible and they don’t care what they ruin.”
Now, Williams is taking the issue to Pittsburgh City Council. She collected more than 100 signatures from neighbors on a petition requesting a public hearing on the matter. Specifically, Williams would like the city to require that dirt bikes, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles be registered and insured, and that the drivers themselves be licensed.
Williams said she hopes that would requirement will offer some protection against property damage and person injury that could result from a dirt bike or ATV accident. Currently, that kind of protection does not exist.
“You can try to get them to pay for it, but if they’re underage, unlicensed, and uninsured, you’re basically up a tree waiting to get something fixed,” Williams said.
Don McClure, of the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association, said the trend of teens riding off-road vehicles on city streets is “troubling.”
“There is a time and a place for off-road recreation,” McClure said. “Where dirt bikes and ATVs should be ridden is on a designated trail system. They should not be hot-rodded through people’s neighborhoods.”
Chapter 77 of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code requires that ATVs be registered with the Department of Transportation. Registration fees benefit the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which build and maintain trail systems for off-road vehicles. However, drivers are not required to obtain a license.
The laws regarding off-road motorcycles or dirt bikes are a little murkier. The Department of Motor Vehicles licenses mopeds, motorcycles, scooters and motor-driven cycles, but dirt bikes tend not to fall into any of these categories.
McClure said his group is in favor of modifying Chapter 77 to include dirt bikes.
“We have recently pulled together language to change Chapter 77,” McClure said. “It is in draft form, and we have several members of the state House of Representatives that are stepping forward (and) examining it.”
Because laws regarding ATVs and dirt bakes are set by the state, not by municipalities, it’s unlikely that Williams will get anywhere with her request.
However, the city of Pittsburgh does have the option of increasing fines and consequences for illegal operation of ATVs and dirt bikes. In April, Philadelphia passed a law aimed at keeping the vehicles off city streets and out of public parks. Previously, police had put confiscated vehicles up for public auction, and they would soon end up back on the streets. Now, Philadelphia police can destroy the vehicles after court proceedings, and can fine the rider up to $2,000.
McClure said he doesn’t think destroying vehicles is a good idea, and that his group is interested in working with cities to help solve the problem of illegal riding.
“We would be more than happy, through the Association, to sit down with city officials inside and outside of the police department to try to come up with reasonable solutions to this,” McClure said.
McClure said sometimes criminalizing behavior is not the best solution. He said he’d rather see the construction of more ATV and dirt bike trails in urban areas.
“If you give people a place to ride, they will respond responsibly,” McClure said. “You’ve got to give them somewhere to go, you’ve got to make it interesting, and it’s got to be a well-constructed trail system.”
Williams said she has no problem with the teenagers riding the vehicles on the street, even though it’s illegal. She just wants to see them ride responsibly.
“Go safely from one point to the other,” Williams said. “Don’t race up and down my street, run people over, pedestrians, run kids over, think that you’re being cool by revving that engine. You’re not.”
Pittsburgh City Council is scheduled to hold a post-agenda meeting on the issue Jan. 22.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the post-agenda meeting on the topic of illegal dirt bike and ATV riding would take place Tuesday. That meeting is expected to be held Jan. 22. The story has been updated.