Springfield City Council approves $300 fine for illegal operation of dirt bikes, ATVs (MassLive)

Read the original story by Peter Goonan here.

The City Council approved an ordinance on Monday night that allows police to issue a $300 ticket for people caught riding dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles on city streets and sidewalks, and in parks.

The ordinance passed by a 10-0 vote, with councilors saying the motorized bikes and other “off highway” vehicles are a nuisance and a danger to public safety.

"They know that they're illegally operating," said Councilor Orlando Ramos, chairman of the Public Safety Committee and co-sponsor of the ordinance. "It's putting the public in danger. This is an ordinance that is aimed to protect the public, both the riders that are putting their lives at risk, and also the folks that are on our streets operating legally."

Police officers can either issue the $300 fine as a civil offense, or issue a higher criminal fine permitted under state law, Ramos said.

Some councilors had suggested that fines increase for second or multiple offenses, but City Solicitor Edward Pikula advised the council that fines under a city ordinance could not exceed $300 per offense.

There have been multiple serious accidents in the city and region in recent months involving dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles traveling on city streets.

In June, the council approved a home rule bill that would allow police to impound dirt bikes and off-road vehicles, and to allow the city to petition for a court hearing to seek forfeiture of the vehicle.

The home rule bill has been forwarded for needed approval from the state Legislature and Governor.

Councilor Jesse Lederman, co-sponsor of the separate ordinance, said he gets many calls from residents and the Police Department gets many calls about the off-highway vehicles creating dangerous situations. The problem is likely only to worsen over the remaining summer, he said.

"This really is a serious public safety issue, and neighborhood quality of life issue," Lederman said.

Councilors Marcus Williams and Tracye Whitfield initially voted against the proposed $300 amount. When the fine amount passed, they joined in voting in favor of the ordinance.

Williams had suggested a lower fine for first offenses. He said while the infraction is serious, the riders are generally younger, and the higher initial fine might be excessive for lower income people. Whitfield was seeking additional review.

Ramos said the state fines are much higher — $1,000 and up. The vehicles can cost $8,000 to $9,000, so owners can afford a $300 fine, he said.

The ordinance states that off-highway vehicles "adversely affect traffic flow and the response time of emergency vehicles in the city," and "lead to motor vehicle collisions for the operator and other motor vehicles and pedestrians in the city."

Off-highway vehicles are defined in the ordinance and state law as including all-terrain vehicles, off-road motorcycles, dirt bikes and recreation utility vehicles and any motor vehicle “designed or modified for use over unimproved terrain for recreation or pleasure while not being operated on a public way.”

Councilors Timothy Ryan, Michael Fenton and Kateri Walsh were absent from the meeting.

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