By Ryan Rancourt
Special to the Journal
A new law has changed the way four-wheeled and utility-type All-Terrain Vehicles are licensed. They can now be licensed as Wheeled All-Terrain Vehicles and operated on county roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, in any county of Washington with a population of 15,000 or less.
The ATV or Utility Task Vehicle (Qualifications RCW 46.09.310 (19)) must first go through a state-certified inspection to provide proof that the necessary safety equipment is installed.
The noise level of the vehicle is also tested to ensure it is not above the acceptable decibel (trust me, dump trucks are much louder). This is comparable to everything a car must have: mirror(s), reflectors, horn/warning device, blinkers (if operated at night), brakes, running light and two-stage headlight (to be used at all hours of the day).
The certification cannot cost more than $50. Upon successful inspection, the WATV is licensed/registered much like any motorized vehicle. Unfortunately, the county in which I reside has a population of 15,875, even though Orcas Island only has a population of 4,000. Of 39 counties in Washington, only seven have populations of under 15,000.
This being said, San Juan County does have the ability to allow WATVs within its borders, with approval of a local ordinance through the county council, provided the vehicle is certified/registered with a metal tag affixed and on roadways with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. There are eight counties in Washington that have passed such ordinances already. As our society progresses forward we are focused on more environmentally-friendly ways of living.
I personally know that I can go through four gallons of fuel in just a day in my pickup truck, yet in instances of similar commuting distance and conditions, my ATV uses four gallons of fuel over a ten day period, or a 10:1 ratio.
With our local interest on lowering vehicle emissions (San Juan County has the highest amount of electric vehicles per capita in the state), and the fact that the majority of our roads are marked with 35 mph speed limits, the use of WATVs in this county makes sense. If WATVs are allowed in San Juan County, there would be a vastly-diminished chance of ATVs being used offroad in “sensitive areas,” or places designated under the Critical Area Ordinance.
There would also be the opportunity for tourists to commute to their vacation destination taking up much less space on the ferry. We allow three-wheeled “mopeds” and motorcycles on our roadways already. I know that I am not alone in thinking that motorcycles are dangerous; that is why I prefer the stability four wheels gives me.
Allowing WATVs in San Juan County would be positive for our environment with lowered emissions, and less wear and tear on our roadways, as well as offering the potential for new revenue streams through additional licensing, etc. Talk to your council representative today and support this step in the right direction.
Rancourt is a resident of Orcas Island