A petition to make ATVs and UTVs legal on Des Moines County roads won't succeed soon, as debates Tuesday left county supervisors unsure exactly how to proceed.

The voices in favor of the change showed up: Jack Dahlsten, the man organizing the petition, argued in favor and was joined by Jeremy Dean, a local enthusiast of the vehicles. People already use the vehicles on roads, they argue, so why not make them legal?

The opposition also attended. Two farmers, Dale Oaks and Suzanne Lange, both argued the change would exacerbate problems that already exist from people using them illegally. Opening up use would bring in city-folk on four-wheelers, they argue, tearing up roads, ditches and their private property.

Between sides were the board members, who appear altogether undecided, and Sheriff Mike Johnstone and County Engineer Brian Carter, who are already pondering the specifics of local regulations.

ATVs vs. UTVs

Dahlsten argued in favor of legalizing use of both ATVs and UTVs on county roads. He said that's what other counties do, and that only allowing one or the other would aggravate locals who own the disallowed type.

On the state level, these terms are both bunched together legally, but in practice they're distinct. ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) generally are four-wheelers designed to carry one passenger and with tires that aren't intended to be used over certain speeds due to their low air pressure.

UTVs (utility task vehicles) are larger and usually pricier. They often have roll cages and other safety features beyond ATVs, and seat a few people. They look more like a golf cart. They're commonly called sidewinders.

Supervisors and Johnstone both floated only legalizing the latter and not the former. Doing so would require establishing some specific legal definitions.

"Most of the folks in UTVs are older individuals who are just out driving around enjoying the countryside," Johnstone said. "They're not tearing anything up or causing any trouble. The ATVs are another issue."

Work vs. play

The farmers argue that such a change would invite more ATVs onto roads than there already are, and they say their land is already suffering from the vehicles.

To that, Supervisor Bob Beck was sympathetic.

"I'm kind of in favor of this, but I can see some problems . . .  I don't see building the law so we can use our roads as a recreation spot," Beck said.

Dean asked why recreation ought to be discouraged. Lange said the vehicles are a farm tool, to which Dean said "We can't play just because you guys use them for work?"

Specific regulations

Johnstone and supervisors resolved to look at other counties' ordinances for specifics to consider here.

Most present, aside from Dahlsten, advocated for a time limit due to the vehicle's low visibility at night and their potential to put drivers at risk. Dahlsten said such a limit wrongs hunters who want to arrive at hunting grounds before sunrise.

Supervisors and Johnstone both agreed that some sort of identification needs to be visible on the vehicles.

Helmets, turning signals and other regulations will be further discussed. The board plans to hold another work session soon.

Other business

The board is considering live-streaming board meetings on YouTube. Information technology staff say it could be done without cost using existing equipment.

A new control panel at the county jail will soon spark budget discussions. The equipment will cost upwards of $95,000, not the $30,000 staff reported Monday.