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Deadly highways

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With Lewis County poised to add more miles of public highways to its trails system, it might do the Legislature some good to get its hands on a Consumer Product Safety Commission report that says that while all-terrain-vehicle deaths could continue to drop once the 2011 statistics are fully compiled, the number of those deaths on public highways has reached an all time high.

In fact, of the 327 confirmed ATV deaths in 2011 (not all reporting is complete), 305 of them occurred on public roads, according to the commission. If you’re counting, that means that 93.2 percent of ATV deaths for the last reported year occurred on public highways.

In many cases, this would provide a cautionary statistic for public officials, who might decide to tighten the screws on the use of public roads by ATV riders. In Lewis County, however, this should be sending up phosphorescent flares: the county’s “trail” system is in reality nothing but long stretches of public roads that link sometimes dubious off-road trails. One could only conclude, based on the most recent statistics, that the county has built itself a trail system that is just begging for trouble.

Put aside for a moment (although, frankly, some can’t) that the county has flaunted state law in the creation of its trail system. Consider instead what it has created; it is the interstate system of ATV traildom, with nothing but wide open roads that allow ATV riders to achieve maximum speed. Why, you might wonder, would the private trails appeal to many ATV enthusiasts, when the roads which are legally closed to ATV traffic nearly everywhere else in the state, in Lewis County provide clear-sailing speedways?

That these roads are statistically more dangerous than off-road trails, where natural terrain limits the top speeds of the machines, ought to make Lewis County legislators think twice about the “trail” system they have created. That roads are more deadly than off-road trails is only exacerbated by the legislature’s apparent goal of providing a straight path for ATV riders to every bar, tavern and gin mill in the county. Alcohol and gasoline don’t mix, but you wouldn’t know that in Lewis County.

It’s time for a reconsideration of the Lewis County “trail” system before the death toll there starts to add to the national statistics. There has been a stirring, of late, of some independence on the legislature; it’s time for those who are brave enough to stand up to the ATV lobby to look at their system — really look at it — and take a stand. All they really need to do is make a concerted effort to remove the public roads from the county’s system, leaving actual trails for ATV enthusiasts to enjoy. If they want to take their machine to a bar, they ought to be doing it towed behind their pickup.

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