Slow down, and be more quiet.
City and county officials hope that those six words can guide utility-terrain vehicle (UTV) drivers as they travel down residential streets and through neighborhoods, following numerous complaints about related noise and traffic.
Moab City Police Chief Mike Navarre said that his office plans to step up its enforcement actions against individuals who ride UTVs and ATVs that are not street-legal. At the same time, he said, it will launch an educational campaign to remind certain business owners about the laws that are currently on the books.
“You can’t rent something to someone that’s illegal and say, ‘Well, here’s Main Street. The only way to get (to where you’re going) is to drive it,’” Navarre said.
While a majority of UTV riders are legally operating their vehicles under existing state law, Navarre said that a sizable minority of them are not. By his estimates, 30 to 40 percent of off-road vehicles that are riding down the city’s streets are not street-legal.
In some cases, out-of-town riders who are pulled over say they are not aware that they are in violation of the law.
Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison noted that a police officer recently stopped a UTV driver who claimed that he rented a street-illegal vehicle from a local business. According to Sakrison, the salesperson made no mention of the fact that the visitor could not operate his rented vehicle in town.
Moab Powersports & Rentals owner Dorrica Brewer told the city council that the first words out of one visitor’s mouth were, “I hear you can drive on the streets here without being street-legal.”
Brewer said her business makes a point of telling such customers that’s not the case. But in some instances, she said, people adopt the attitude that if they receive a ticket, they will simply deal with it then.
Judging by Sakrison’s comments and tone of voice, he has no patience for that kind of attitude.
In recent weeks, he said, he’s heard from many city residents who don’t want to let their kids outside when UTVs are racing up and down the streets; others are upset about rising levels of noise in their residential neighborhoods.
“I can’t even go to the damn store without somebody getting in my face about it,” Sakrison told the city council on Tuesday, May 26.
Grand County Council member Mary Mullen McGann said she’s heard similar comments from her constituents when she heads down to City Market on grocery runs. In response, she wants to pursue efforts to revise the state’s existing UTV laws.
“We should have some ability to change our rules,” McGann said during a joint city and county council meeting on Friday, May 29.
Sakrison said he supports that idea, and he noted that the Utah League of Cities and Towns will likely push for revisions to the laws during the Utah Legislature’s next session.
Moab resident Candace Butterworth said she hopes that city officials take immediate action, ahead of any efforts to lobby state lawmakers.
“That can be a long and drawn-out affair, and in the meantime, we’re dealing with an unhealthy situation,” she said.
Butterworth said her neighborhood is heavily impacted by UTVs en route to the Sand Flats Recreation Area. Speaking as someone who works in the local wellness industry, Butterworth said the noise they make can cause hypertension, elevate stress levels and affect residents’ sleeping patterns.
“This is our modern world, and our precious commodities are clean air, clean water and quiet,” she said.
To address the issue, Butterworth said she believes that officials should require UTV riders to trailer their vehicles to their destinations.
“Get them off the streets altogether,” she said. “Other communities have done that, and we can, too.”
Until the legislature reconvenes, Sakrison said the city will actively ramp up its enforcement and public outreach campaigns to discourage “plain obnoxious” UTV owners and renters.
“The word needs to get out,” he said. “If you’re going to operate around here and screw around, it ain’t going to happen.”
Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson said he believes that word will spread in a hurry if officials strictly enforce the law for a year or two. The community resolved similar kinds of issues in the past, he said, including problems during the spring break holiday season in the 1990s.
Moab City Council member Doug McElhaney, who has been involved with Easter Jeep Safari for more than three decades, said that certain kinds of visitors are under the impression that they can do whatever they want when they come to town.
“It sort of seems to be the tendency that, ‘If we’re playing, we don’t have to obey the rules,’” he said.
Local officials and law enforcement officers could educate the public until they’re blue in the face, he said, but the message needs to come from others in order to be effective.
“It can’t fall on the police force,” McElhaney said.
Ultimately, he said, it’s up to event organizers to rein in their participants.
“It doesn’t come positively from us,” McElhaney said. “I don’t care how many times a policeman stops you and smiles at you. It’s not a positive experience.”
Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures owner Kent Green makes his living in the ATV and UTV industry, and he said agrees with calls for lower UTV speed limits on city streets.
“I’m all for reducing the speed limit, believe me,” Green said. “Because it is annoying.”
Green said he also supports efforts to crack down on scofflaws.
“I think enforcement is the key word, because there are a lot of responsible users out there,” he said.
Jackson said the vehicles typically make more noise as they rev up to faster speeds, so a UTV that is buzzing along at 30 miles per hour is considerably louder than one that travels at 15 miles per hour.
Navarre, in turn, said the city should look into the possibility of adopting regulations that mandate slower speeds on city streets.
“If there’s something that we can do to lessen the noise impact, I think that’s what we need to have,” Navarre said.
For the time being, however, Navarre said there are limits to what his office can do under current state law.
“We’re not just going to pull people over and give them a ticket because it’s loud,” Navarre said. “It’s how the machine is designed.”
Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs said she believes that local officials need to work on a concerted effort to limit impacts from UTVs, while exploring the possibility of pursuing legislative reforms.
Nobody wants to hurt business owners in the community, Tubbs said, but local citizens have concerns about the issue, and they have just as much of a voice as anyone else does.
City, county councils discuss ways to reduce vehicles’ impacts in neighborhoods
If there’s something that we can do to lessen the noise impact, I think that’s what we need to have.