What prompted ATV crackdown?

There is a lot of talk in and around Huntsville, Tenn., this week about a crackdown on ATV riders by state and local law enforcement over the holiday weekend, when thousands of riders were in town for Brimstone Recreation’s annual White Knuckle Event.

Numerous Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers were stationed in and around Huntsville throughout the weekend — at least a half-dozen and at times perhaps as many as 10 — and were issuing citations to any ATV caught riding on the highway or on sidewalks along the highway. Local law enforcement, which almost never issues citations to ATVs for illegal riding, were also writing citations to ATVs caught on the highway.

Tennessee state law, of course, prohibits riding off-road vehicles on the highway. On the other hand, many of the riders ticketed during the weekend campaign have attended this event in the past and have become accustomed to being able to ride their ATVs from a nearby hotel to the event area, and from the event area to convenience stores along the highway. Memorial Day weekend is usually one time when enforcement of state laws regarding ATVs on public roads is relaxed a bit in order to allow riders to access the event area.

Several who attended the event from out-of-town — the kind of money-spending tourists that this economically-depressed community covets — have said they won’t be back. One said he will spend his vacation time at West Virginia’s Hatfield & McCoy trail system where, he said, “you’re actually welcomed by the local community.”

Businesses along the S.R. 63 route through Huntsville say that this weekend was their slowest Memorial Day weekend in years in terms of grocery, beer and gasoline sales, because once riders realized law enforcement was cracking down, the customer flow dried up.

On the other hand, some motorists traveling through the town say they felt safer with the extra law enforcement protection, adding that they have feared for their safety with so many ATVs driving on the road. It’s no secret that some ATV riders take advantage of relaxed enforcement by riding recklessly and dangerously.

The issue has split residents into two distinct camps: one side favors the crackdown, the other does not. Most ATV riders fall into the latter, but a few fall into the former. Most non-riders fall into the former, but some — more than I would have assumed, in fact — fall into the latter. You can see this division even here on this blog, in comments below. Commenter Twice Guessing takes the stance that the crackdown was heavy-handed, while commenter Greasey says that the laws were simply being enforced for a change.

A few things should probably be pointed out.

1.) Anyone who was riding an ATV on the road really has little grounds for complaint. The law says that you cannot do that, and I would presume that most of them are well aware of the law. The merits of the crackdown can — and should — be debated, but don’t cry for the ATV riders, Argentina.

2.) Don’t blame the law enforcement officers for doing their jobs. A couple of the state troopers I spoke with made it clear that they were simply doing what they were told to do. The same applies to the county deputies. My brother, in fact, was one of the local deputies issuing citations on Friday and Saturday. They don’t make the laws, and they don’t get to decide which laws to enforce. It’s more than a little ironic to me that so many people from the local community were praising the THP troopers for standing by the family of Sgt. Brian Boshears after his death just a few weeks ago and those same people are now cursing the same troopers.

3.) With No. 1 in mind, it seems unfair to issue citations to riders who have become accustomed to relaxed enforcement on this weekend. Would it really have been impossible to spend this year issuing warning citations and then begin issuing the real thing next year on the event weekend?

4.) There are two questions that deserve to be asked and answered: first, why the crackdown by both state and local law enforcement now, after so many years? And, second, who requested or ordered the THP presence? Maybe there were enough complaints of unsafe riding that THP and the local sheriff’s department felt compelled to do something. Maybe word finally reached high enough that people with enough authority demanded that the law be enforced. If so, fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But these questions should be asked. If it turns out that this crackdown was politically motivated at any level, there should be repercussions for that.

5.) This is largely a no-win situation for law enforcement. Do nothing and they’re accused of being derelict of their duties. Enforce the law and they’re accused of being heavy-handed. There seems to be no happy medium; one side or the other is going to cry foul.

For the record, I spoke with Scott County Sheriff Mike Cross about the decision to cite riders who ventured onto the highway with ATVs. He said that he did not request the THP presence.

“They’re the THP. They’re state guys. They don’t need my permission and they aren’t going to ask for it,” he said. “And people complain to them just like they complain to me. They hear it just like I do. Some people will call them because they say we don’t do enough to enforce the law on four-wheeler riders. And, to be honest, they might be right.”

Cross said plans for the crackdown by THP had been in the works for quite some time, however. He added that it was coordinated at least in the early stages by one person — who he identified — but said that isn’t being discussed publicly out of respect for that person.

Notions that his own department acted out of political motivation are “completely ridiculous,” Cross said, noting that ATV riders from one side of Huntsville’s dueling ATV campgrounds were ticketed just as much as ATV riders from the other side.

“The bottom line is that we can’t have ATVs out there drag-racing side-by-side on the highway,” the sheriff said. “It’s not safe. You can’t have ATVs out in four lanes of traffic that is coming and going in both directions. It’s not safe for motorists and it certainly isn’t safe for the guys on ATVs. If an ATV tangles with even a small-sized car, it isn’t going to be a pleasant outcome for the ATV.” He noted that there are safe ways that ATVs can get to and from the event area but said that it will take a coordinated effort on the part of everyone involved — from his own department to the companies hosting the weekend festivals to the Town of Huntsville itself.

In the end, this weekend may well lead to definitive action at both the local and state level as to where and when ATVs may be ridden on the roadway during these event weekends. We may see some legal concessions made for where ATVs can lawfully drive on the public roadways instead of just a good ol’ boy agreement that law enforcement — both local and state — will turn their heads. Before the weekend had ended, wheels were already turning, involving officials at various levels. There will likely be talks in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps even the involvement of the Tennessee General Assembly before all is said and done. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

In the meantime, Scott County needs to make a decision: does this community want the ATV traffic and the tourism dollars generated by it, or not? There is a huge rift within the community between those who are all for it and those who are dead-set against it. That rift does not go unnoticed by the out-of-town riders, and it has discouraged a few from coming back.

If the community enjoys seeing local businesses that can cater to these riders prosper, and enjoys the tax dollars that the riders bring in, then some efforts should be made to accommodate those riders and welcome them with open arms. Travel to Harlan, Ky., or the communities around the Hatfield & McCoy trails and you’ll find small towns that do everything within their power to welcome ATV riders — and that includes the citizens as well as the officials; the hourly workers as well as the business owners. The same cannot currently be said for Scott County. That does not mean law enforcement should disregard the law, or that they’re to be blamed for enforcing it this past weekend. It simply means that, for the future, there needs to be concessions made so that ATV riders can get from one place to the other without being in violation of the law.

If the community doesn’t want the ATV riders here, that’s okay. But we should probably stop complaining about the economic state of our community if we’re unwilling to embrace an event that in just seven years has grown into a shindig worthy of national attention.


19 Reviews

    Maybe this is just me, but i’m betting you wouldn’t be so condescending to the locals if you lived on river road or brimstone. Before you point fingers at the people for complaining, how bout spending one of the busy ATV weekends at one of their houses, were you have to almost shout to each other while you’re visiting on the porch or have some drunk red run up into your yard and tear up your grass or throw their trash in your yard and take off, or cuss you like a dog for going to slow for them, or even have about 10 or 12 park in the middle of a county road eating lunch and stare at you like you’re an idiot instead of moving out of your way, or get run out of the same county road because a pack of them wouldn’t yield to you. And these aren’t few and far between instances, it happens all the time. So before judging some of the locals for complaining maybe you should take a walk in some of their shoes.

      How many hunters have you seen go over their limit, road hunt, kill just for the horns, or trespass to hunt? What about people fishing that trash up the river banks, trespass, ect. So do you dislike ALL people that hunt and fish? There will always be problem makers. The same goes for people that ride ATVs. Just because some has caused problems, doesn’t mean you should JUDGE the ATV community as a whole. That would be like me saying “I don’t hunt and fish, and I don’t like people that hunt and fish for the reasons I mentioned above.”

        I never said that i don’t like people who ride ATV’s. I said I don’t ride ATV’s nor do i like ATV’s because they are a nuisance to me. I never said i don’t like all ATV riders or anything about atv riders. I said i don’t like ATV’s for reasons mentioned above.I know that there are responsible, considerate people who ride, i see them on the mountain quite a bit, but i see the reckless, unresponsible riders more.

        I am not judging the ATV community as a whole, i never said i dislike all people who ride ATV’s. I’ve seen enough on brimstone to have my mind made up on the issue.

    No one is being condescending towards anyone.

    Have you ever spent an event weekend on Brimstone Road or River Road? Like you, I have spent time up there during the event weekends. Yes, the ATVs are a nuisance. However, I have never witnessed any of the extreme problems you mentioned (trespassing, destruction of property). Do they exist? I’m sure they do, but I also believe the people guilty of those things are a very small minority of the people riding through on these weekends.

    I have witnessed ATVs acting as though they own the road — stopped in the middle of it to eat their lunch, then acting reluctant to move when a vehicle approaches, tailgating, etc. But I’ve also witnessed folks in cars going out of their way to force ATVs to the edge of the road and tailgating ATVs. So it works both ways. Maybe if we all abided by the 2nd greatest commandment given by Jesus, this wouldn’t be a problem.

    I live on the opposite end. During peak seasons I have to follow slow-moving horse trailers on nearly a daily basis. I’ve had horse trailers come onto my road (a private drive) by mistake, then turn their trailers in my front yard. I’ve been cussed more than once by horseback riders while cruising roads in the BSF because they think horses should have the right-of-way even when they’re on roads and not on trails. Those things annoy me. But it isn’t anything I can’t live with.

    Honestly, if I lived on River Road I would go on vacation for the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. But events and festivals are always an inconvenience. That’s just part of it. Consider the Firemen’s 4th. There’s far more congestion in Huntsville proper during the 4th of July festival than during Memorial Day weekend. But the people who live on the streets around the square have embraced it. They embraced it long ago when most of them were also involved in planning it because they saw the benefits of it — it was a fundraiser for their fire department.

    Likewise, the ATV festivals are beneficial to the community. There are several businesses that have been created by ATV traffic to Scott County, and those businesses have created several jobs. There are more than a few existing businesses that have seen an uptick in customer traffic since ATV riding became big here, especially on the event weekends. Those businesses also support a number of jobs. As a community, if we cannot accept the inconvenience that comes with these things, then we have no right to complain about the economy. That isn’t being condescending, that’s just being honest.

      why should I have to leave my home? or use ear plugs due to the noise, all we ask is they remain on the grounds, drive to the event enjoy your day camp u stay off our roads, what is so hard about that. stay on those thousand miles of trails as they advertise why do they have to site see in our community I dot benefit from this event which is at least a whole week 24 hours a day and constant traffic. STAY ON THE MOUNTAIN OR FARM you don’t need to drive your off road vehicles on our road.

    So if,lets say another dump was to move into the county say across the road from you or a family member that they should just suck it up and deal with it because it brings jobs to the county?? Or what about a rock quarry a few hundred yards down the street? Hey, it creates jobs and creates a “boom” to the local economy so we should just deal with it and shut our traps. The same can be said for strip mining and logging and everything else. Just because something creates a “boom” to the local economy or creates a few jobs does not make it the right thing to do. And if someone is against one of those things, it doesn’t mean they revoke their right to care about their local economy or community.

    You’re putting words in my mouth. No one said anyone has to shut up. No one said anyone doesn’t care about their community or its economy. People have a right to gripe about whatever they want to gripe about. And if they determine that the cost isn’t worth the gain, then that’s fine…which I believe I pointed out in the original post. As I said, it’s a decision that the community has to make. But economic progress never comes without inconvenience to somebody, somewhere. Never.

    As for the comparisons you make, it’s apples/oranges. You’re comparing things that are usually protested because they’re detrimental to the environment against something that is merely an inconvenience.

    You could argue that all things that i mentioned are an inconvenience to someone who lives nearby.

    “As a community, if we cannot accept the inconvenience that comes with these things, then we have no right to complain about the economy”- those were your words.

    I’m not trying to start a big fuss or a big argument. I really don’t care either way, i don’t ride ATV’s, I admit that i don’t like them very much for reasons i mentioned above. But it does help the local economy, maybe not as much as some people make out, but every little bit helps. I was just trying to make a point that alot of the people who tend to argue that people shouldn’t complain or should deal with it because it helps the economy aren’t the people who have to deal with the inconvenience on a daily basis.

    Well, that’s true: if we want to complain about the ATVs, we have a right to do that. But when they aren’t here, it’s pointless to complain about the economy.

    I am not a fan of ATVs. I don’t like hiking deep into the woods only to see an ATV sitting there. I don’t like the noise pollution. But the positives that have been created by ATV tourism and the doors that have been opened cannot be ignored.

    Ben,
    Just out of curiosity, do you know what measures have been implemented in Harlan that ensures the safety of both ATV riders and other motor vehicles? It’s a shame that we can’t find a good solution that would allow ATVs access to Hunstville area businesses. I know there wouldn’t be a budget for it, but it’s a shame we couldn’t have an ATV lane (like a bike lane). Maybe it could be in the budget for Huntsville / Scott county to implement the same measures that Harlan has.

    I had to deal with some of the “ATV’ers” at my business. I’ve never been to Brimstone during the event. But, It seems to me if they want to have an event then they should provide adequate parking for everybody and not on the side of the public roads. I hate going through Huntsville at that time b/c. people act so foolishly on their four-wheelers and SxS’s. I also think that in order to feel welcome in the community you must act like somebody. I had to deal with numerous out of towners who thought they owned the county. I don’t like to do it but I don’t care to put a customer in their place. Specially when they have the mentality that they are here for me to be their servant.

    Why does the Sheriff “respect” someone who created the havoc that resulted in our visitors being treated unfairly (yes Ben it was unfair – you even said so yourself and I don’t agree they had no grounds for complaint – the practice by law enforcement for years was that it was ok for the fofur-wheelers to ride on the street for two weekends out of the year. Now after a plan was devised in secret and coordinated by this “respected” secret person for months (well at least “plans for the crackdown by THP had been in the works for quite some time” and obviously coordinated with the Sheriff’s department by this secret person) they suddenly show up in force pulling people over right and left writing tickets and collecting thousands of dollars in fines in the process.

    Sorry but don’t ask me to respect anyone involved in this fiasco by claiming it was for “safety”. If they had safety and the interest of Scott County in mind they would have used all that energy in planning to accommodate the 4–wheelers in the “safe ways” the Sheriff now says is possible instead of this secretly planned brilliant display of law enforcement power bringing to heel those dangerous criminals on their four wheelers.

    You said “He noted that there are safe ways that ATVs can get to and from the event area but said that it will take a coordinated effort on the part of everyone involved — from his own department to the companies hosting the weekend festivals to the Town of Huntsville itself.” Why didn’t this secret hero of the Sheriff’s coordinate a plan like that instead of coordinating this secret plan with the THP to lighten the pockets of our visitors?

    Now I like Sheriff Cross. I think he has done a good job since he has been Sheriff. But he and this secret coordinator and the THP all have something to be ashamed of in their actions this past weekend. The least they could have done since they sat and watched this happening for years would have been to issue warning citations or put out notices beforehand that the law that had not been enforced for years would be enforced this year.

      you could also argue why hasn’t something been done about it before now. I’m glad this “respeected” person said something and something was done about it. I’m pretty sure alot of people are…this isn’t the wild west frontier, there are laws, and most of these people knew about these laws. Just because it hadn’t been enforced before doesn’t mean that someone can’t start enforcing it at the drop of a hat. It’s not like it’s even a new law. It’s been in the books for a while that you can’t ride ATV’s on the highway.
      All i have to say is if you’re gonna be stupid, you better be tough.

    PS: I should state that I do not participate in these 4-wheeler events – I have never owned a 4-wheeler myself so I don’t have a dog in this fight other than a strong sense of justice and what I saw this past weekend was not justice.

    And I wouldn’t like four-wheelers coming through my lawn or doing the things some people complain about – but that is an entirely different issue – none of those things were what people were getting tickets for – they were getting $250.00 fines for doing what the local law enforcement had condoned in the past.

    What laws do our neighboring States, have concerning ATVs (Missouri for on) looks like or legislative body could come up with something similar to our neighbors.

    Keep in mind there are two sides to every story and sometimes more. Just as two wrongs don’t make a right should law enforcement just continue to ignore the laws of the land and the safety of its citizens because they had before? Do you get a speeding ticket every time you drive above the legal limit? What is the town of Huntsville, the state of Tn. and the publics liability if or when someone gets badly hurt or killed on one of these suvs’ on a city street or state highway? As a citizen of Huntsville and Tn. and a very very close observer of the activities when one of these events takes place I have serious concerns and it’s my tax dollars that will be paid out to cover the accidents or deaths. I get to listen to at least three days and nights, sometimes all night, of loud motors, music, and partying not to mention the daily policing of trash and beer cans out of my yard and property. I get to listen to suvs’ race up and down the city streets until three or four in the morning at tremendously loud and fast speeds. I know these things have breaks but there is no way they could stop quickly for say a child in the road or animal which there are plenty of both in Huntsville. From what I hear, most of the tickets written were not just for riding on the streets. There were other law violations as well such as open alcohol containers, riding recklessly, etc… which contributed to the large fines for some of the tickets. You can’t get away with that in a car or a boat so why should they (suv riders) expect to be treated differently? Now with that said let me say I appreciate the tax revenue brought in to our city and county by these ‘guests’ but some common sense should be exercised by them when they are here. Most of them are well mannered, respectful, law abiding people but a few can make the whole group look bad and I think that is the case here. I don’t take part in these events (well unless you count living next door to the noise, partying, and loud music all night) and have never owned a suv and I haven’t ever complained to the city or law enforcement although I would be justified in doing so. Can all these problems be resolved? Sure they can but the principal owners in these events need to work out the solutions. That’s unlikely to happen though since they won’t even speak to each other unless it’s through some kind of legal document or negative messages sent by third parties. Your previous statement about the tourism going to “The Hatfield and McCoys” to ride if we don’t treat them better is ironic when we have a very similar feud going on here that is getting increasingly ugly and destructive in more ways than one.

    “The police officer working the beat makes more decisions, and exercises broader discretion affecting the daily lives of people every day, and to a greater extent, than a judge will exercise in a week” — Chief Justice Warren Burger, United States Supreme Court, 1969-1986.

    anyone who doesn’t agree is an ignorant ass behind a badge. Many officers don’t understand the power of the lack of their discretion.

    People make mistakes, kids drink and make stupid decisions. An officer can be the destruction of that child’s life, or a mentor and a savior. And irregardless of what an officer will tell you, discretion is under their control on minor offenses.

    But their is an unwritten rule within the THP which gives them a guiding principle to follow. Take a look at this article:

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/07/tennessee-highway-patrol-ticket-quota-uncovered/

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