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Sheriff shifts position on ATVs

He reverses his stance, urging Pasco to opt out of a new state law that allows the vehicles to be used on some public dirt roads.

Published September 5, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - A change in Florida law that would allow all-terrain vehicles on some unpaved roads is prompting Pasco County to examine stiffer standards.

So is a change in Sheriff Bob White.

White sent the County Commission a letter last week asking it to opt out of the new state law loosening restrictions on ATV use.

This position is a reversal of that announced by a spokesman just last month, who told the Times the Sheriff's Office saw no fault with the new law and had no plans to support opting out.

On Oct. 1, state law will change to allow licensed drivers, or minors supervised by them, to ride ATVs on public dirt roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. All public roads are off-limits now, forcing riders to use private land or tracks - or violate the law.

But a clause allows commissioners to have a public hearing and then vote to exempt the county from the new law.

White wrote commissioners that, "Although it might appear on the surface that this law would reduce the workload of local law enforcement ... I believe the opposite would occur.

At Commissioner Pat Mulieri's urging, the County Commission on Aug. 22 told staff and attorneys to begin the opt-out process. Mulieri said this week she wants to see if the county can place more limits on ATV use, too. Most likely, any action will take place after Oct. 1.

In Hernando County, the Sheriff's Office and county officials have begun the process to opt out.

That follows the Aug. 12 death of a 13-year-old girl riding on an ATV driven by her 12-year-old cousin in Hernando. Two weeks later, a Pasco man and a Hernando man were found dead near the wreckage of their ATV in another Hernando crash - part of a string of Tampa Bay area ATV crashes.

"I definitely think the ATVs can be a nuisance, especially with the young children," said Mulieri, who said she has come upon teenagers doing wheelies near her driveway.

Kevin Doll, a spokesman who had previously said the sheriff had no qualms with the law, said Friday that White's new stance resulted from conversations with commissioners and other department members who deal with ATV complaints.

Commission Chairman Steve Simon said Friday he supported opting out, echoing White's arguments.

Commissioner Ted Schrader recently urged a bit of caution, though.

"First of all, I don't really know what the intent of the Legislature was when they were doing this," Schrader said, expressing concern for businesses that could use ATVs for work, such as at orange groves.

"It's not that I am opposed. My concern was if they've got a legitimate reason if they're going down a dirt road."

[Last modified September 4, 2006, 20:20:58]

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