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LaGrange imposes $500 city fine for illegal dirt bikes

The LaGrange Police Department said in a press release earlier this month that they received 172 calls for service regarding dirt bike activity between April 1 and July 6, an average of about 2.5 calls per day. Most calls are because drivers of off-road vehicles are driving “recklessly and unlawfully” on public streets and thoroughfares, the release said.

“Sometimes the drivers of these dirt bikes are massed in large groups and have taunted other motorists and pedestrians. This type of reckless disregard for life and property is not welcome in our community,” the release reads.

At a LaGrange City Council work session on July 14, LPD Chief Lou Dekmar told councilmembers that motorcycles account for less than 1% of traffic accidents, but 30% of traffic fatalities in LaGrange over the past 10 years.

To try and curb this trend, the LaGrange City Council adopted an ordinance Tuesday night prohibiting certain off-road vehicles from operating on public streets, sidewalks and other areas.

The ordinance, Sec. 10-20-14, defines off-road vehicles as motorized vehicles designed for “natural terrain” and being “not intended for use predominantly on public roads.” That includes dirt bikes, four-wheel drive or low-pressure tire vehicles and all-terrain vehicles. It does not include emergency vehicles, farm machinery, tractors or golf carts.

Violators of the new city ordinance that are charged and convicted will be fined at least $500. They may also be subject to state traffic violations. Though this is the first city ordinance to address off-road vehicles, state law already prohibited unregistered or non-street legal dirt bikes from use on public roads. 

LPD said in the release that they had charged or may charge off-road vehicle drivers with the following state traffic crimes: reckless driving, driving while unlicensed, unregistered vehicle, no insurance, improper passing, following too close, aggressive driving, drivers to exercise due care in relation to pedestrians, racing, too fast for conditions, headgear and eye-protective devices for riders and operating motorcycle on roadway laned for traffic.

The LPD asked the council to draft an ordinance that would, for the first time, restrict off-road vehicles in the city, giving the police another tool to curb off-roading, even if state law isn’t being broken.

“I mean, what if we had LPD [dirt] bikes, just to scare them?” Councilman Nathan Gaskin joked at the work session.

The LPD does not have any motorcycle units.

Sgt. Chris Pritchett of the LPD said he and other officers would focus on enforcing the local ordinance instead of trying to find state law violations.

Even if they aren’t being reckless or causing trouble with other drivers, the dirt bikes’ off-road design makes them dangerous to operate on city streets, Pritchett said.

“There’s already some dangers when they hit blacktop or asphalt,” he said, citing their small size, different tires and amounts of traction, as well as their lack of proper lights. He also said when he sees dirt bikes, “nine times out of 10” the riders aren’t wearing helmets.

In addition to the danger they present to themselves and others, Pritchett said the riders damage property. Dekmar told councilmembers the dirt bikes are ridden through backyards and down train track corridors. Calls have been made to police from residents and businesses.

Pritchett believes the dirt bikes are popular among young people for their affordability, agility and ability to be ridden “just about anywhere.”

According to the release, the city does not have an area specifically dedicated for off-road vehicles. LPD advises those who wish to drive these vehicles to do so where legal, sharing sites such as www.trailsoffroad.com and www.alltrails.com.

“I’m hopeful that these folks will ride somewhere legally, rather than putting themselves and others at risk,” Pritchett said.