Amend New York’s ATV Law to Increase Tourism

October 6, 2017

New York’s tourism industry is alive and showing signs of growth. According to a recent study of the state’s tourism industry, it is estimated that 239 million visitors traveled to New York State in 2016. These visitors had an estimated economic impact of $104.8 billion and $64.8 billion in direct spending. While the number of visitors and spending is up from 2015, the state can do more to help increase tourism.

A simple way to draw more visitors to New York and particularly to Upstate New York is to amend the state’s vehicle and traffic laws to allow side-by-side ATVs to be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Side-by-sides are often used in farm operations but are also growing in popularity for recreational use. Unlike a traditional ATV, a side-by-side, sometimes referred to as a utility task vehicle (UTV), enables the passenger to sit next to the driver rather than behind the driver. As a result, they are slightly heavier, more technologically advanced, and safer by some industry standards. To enable more riders to enjoy the scenic beauty and encourage more people to visit our local businesses, New York should raise the weight limit from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds to allow for side-by-sides on public trails. I sponsor legislation that would enact this change and bring the current weight limit up to date.

Unfortunately, the bill has stalled in the Assembly due to a general misconception that riders are uncaring about the environment when in fact many are conservationists who take rides to appreciate nature and the area's scenic beauty. Opponents also claim the increase will cause erosion. There are ways, however, to prevent erosion and the state should use some of the ATV registration fees--an estimated $1.5 million a year--collected at the DMV to pay for general trail maintenance. In fact, for many years the state collected an additional fee from registered riders with the understanding that the fee would help pay for trail development and maintenance. Those trails, however, were never developed and riders lost out on a promised investment. The state should make good on that promise by finally creating the trails on state land, similar to the trail system created for snowmobilers. This would help make vast areas of land owned by the state accessible to the public. Instead, New York’s current policy is helping to drive visitors elsewhere and encouraging some of its own residents to go to other states.

Because of current policy, we are losing out on registration fees at the DMV and UTV owners are losing out on access to public trails. More importantly, local businesses are losing revenue that could be generated by more visitors on trails that are specifically designed and built to handle the off-road experience that all-terrain vehicles offer. Finally, this change in law would be more consistent with other state efforts to promote and increase tourism. ATV and snowmobile trails are promoted on the “I Love NY” website and through other local tourism outreach efforts yet our laws are not consistent with some of the tourism messaging. It is time to update our laws that have not been changed since 1997 to be more in step with the changing vehicles in order to bring more people here to experience our area. Our region has incredible beauty and the ATV trails traverse through creek-side views and wooded terrain that can only be safely accessed with an off-road vehicle.

Anyone who owns an ATV must register the vehicle with the DMV even if the vehicle is only being used on the owner’s property. ATV dealers are required to register every ATV they sell to New York State residents before the buyer receives their vehicle. Certain exemptions do apply such as when the vehicles are used for agricultural purposes. To learn more about ATVs and current regulations, visit https://dmv.ny.gov/brochure/atvs-information-owners-and-operators. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@nysassembly.gov or by calling (315) 598-5185.