Sedona — The familiar sight of off-highway vehicles cruising the streets of Sedona may soon be a thing of the past thanks to an ordinance proposed by the city council.
The ordinance requires all vehicles on paved roads to comply with certain vehicle safety standards, but the city claims that almost all OHVs fail.
The ordinance, if passed, would make it illegal to drive unsafe vehicles, vehicles not equipped with proper safety equipment, or vehicles not approved by the manufacturer on paved roads and public roads in Sedona.
Notably, as it is now written, there is now an exemption for city employees under the ordinance, intended to allow the fire department to continue using its fleet of UTVs for service calls across towns. .
The basis of this regulation is based on the fact that the OHV manufacturers themselves explicitly state in their owner’s manuals that their vehicles are not designed to be driven on any kind of pavement.
In addition, the tires that these vehicles are equipped with do not meet the Department of Transportation’s requirements for driving on roads and highways.
OHVs often lack other safety devices designed to keep drivers of conventional vehicles safe, such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, stability control, bumpers and turn signals. So many, city leaders have raised additional safety concerns.
“The fact is that all six manufacturers claim that these vehicles are unsuitable for pavement, and that is an incontrovertible fact,” City Councilman Brian Fultz said.
“Now that we know it, we cannot ignore it,” he said.
Fultz also stressed twice that Polaris, one of the most popular manufacturers of OHVs, did not object to the ordinance’s rationale. Rather, they are only concerned with the continued economic viability of local industries, a sentiment shared by many speakers and a majority of members of parliament.
Hutholtz said it is the city council’s responsibility to take preemptive steps to protect drivers, whether they are aware of the dangers inherent in these vehicles.
“When a manufacturer says it’s not safe to do something, I believe there are Darwinian principles involved in doing it anyway,” said City Councilman Melissa Dunn, as well. rice field.
Mayor Scott Jabrough said he understands the concerns of the community, but that safety remains a priority. Furthermore, he said, just because a deadly OHV accident hasn’t happened in Sedona yet, doesn’t mean we should wait until one happens to take action.
“All we do is keep people safe,” Jaburo said. “And it could be you, your wife, your spouse, your children, you never know.”
In submitting the ordinance, the city referred to the US Consumer and Product Safety Commission, which reports an average of more than 700 deaths annually related to OHV. From 2017 to 2019, the last year for which complete data were available, there were 2,178 OHV-related deaths, according to the commission’s most recent annual report.
Lawmakers, Residents Concerned About Unintended Consequences
Much of the conversation that evening revolved around limiting the possible unintended consequences of the ordinance being enforced. Both the Chairs who supported and opposed the ordinance expressed a variety of concerns that could potentially arise as a result of the legislation.
Banning OHVs from paved roads would require large trailers to haul them to trailheads, potentially causing more chaos than the already congested parking situation in many popular areas, many said. points out.
Additionally, numerous speakers related to the OHV industry expressed concern that the restrictions would have a significant negative economic impact on local rental operators and their employees.
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City leaders shared some of these concerns and reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the industry through this potential transition.
“I don’t think the city council should be doing the job of putting companies out of business,” Fultz said.
Several city council members expressed general support for the ordinance, but more research is needed on the potential impact before voting.
“We have two things to do: keep your businesses running and, by that, keep residents and the public safe while traveling,” Jaburo said. .
Other popular off-road destinations are passing similar restrictions
Sedona isn’t the first tourist destination to grapple with OHV issues on public roads.
Just this March, an industry group sponsored by OHV manufacturers wrote to the Oregon legislature against a bill to legalize OHVs and ATVs on public roads, saying they were unsafe for highway use.
In nearby New Mexico, it is illegal to drive an OHV on paved roads or highways unless permitted by a local government or state transportation commission.
Montana, on the other hand, requires OHVs to be road-legal before they can be driven on public pavement, which includes functional headlamps, stop lamps, brakes, electronic horns, rearview mirrors, exhaust mufflers, May include the addition of a spark arrestor.
Lawmakers noted that these states are still able to maintain a successful off-road industry.
“It’s about changing the business model,” said deputy mayor Holli Ploog.
Conservative think tank questions legitimacy of ordinance
The day before the meeting, Goldwater Institute attorney Adam Shelton sent a letter to the city questioning the legitimacy of the ordinance under state law.
Many of the residents who opposed the proposal specifically referred to the letter and potential legal action if the ordinance was eventually passed.
“The proposed regulations are likely to be preempted by state law, and we believe that OHVs can be legally driven on the roads and highways as long as they are equipped with the equipment required by state law.” wrote Shelton.
This does not specifically contradict Sedona’s ordinance, which basically just requires all vehicles on public roads to be permitted to use the highway, which seems to be the intent of state law.
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During the meeting, Sedona City Attorney Kurt Christianson said he introduced several statutes under Arizona law that give local governments the power to impose such restrictions.
“We are not in the business of passing illegal ordinances,” Ploog added.
The Goldwater Institute is a conservative liberal public policy think tank in Phoenix whose mission is to “defend and strengthen the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution of the United States and all 50 states.” .
City Councilman Pete Furman noted the allegations outlined in the letter, noting that the group isn’t always the best judge of what’s best for Sedona.
“I would like to remind all of us that neither the Goldwater Institute nor the Arizona Legislature believed short-term rentals were harmful in any way,” Furman said.
Sedona has been trying to solve the OHV problem for years
The city has been trying to mitigate the impact of the OHV industry for nearly a decade, but few concrete solutions have emerged. Residents have long complained about the dust and noise coming from these vehicles, which have surged in popularity over the past decade.
Many of the opponents of the ordinance argued that it was a roundabout way for the city to ban OHVs outright, but the city council pushed back.
While the city is considering this ordinance, another broader effort is still underway to develop solutions with various stakeholders on this issue.
The Greater Sedona Recreation Collaborative launched last year as a gathering of community representatives who reflect a wide range of perspectives on the subject. But city councilors are focusing on group schedules and solutions that have already existed for years, such as reducing the volume of OHVs and modifying mufflers to reduce noise. expressed dissatisfaction with
“At some point, you have to say, ‘Do something,’ and it doesn’t look like anything new is being done,” Jabrough said.
Group facilitator Jessica Archibald said that while a multi-year timeline may not be ideal, trust must be built between all opposing sides to ensure the project’s success. and admitted that it would not happen overnight.
“This is an incredibly complex issue,” Archibald said. “There’s a reason this took nine years.”