For Immediate Release - June 30, 2010

Environmental Police Step Up Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement in Northampton, Hatfield

Urging ATV and dirt bike operators to ride safely, use helmets

NORTHAMPTON - June 30, 2010 - As summer draws off-road vehicle enthusiasts to riding trails across the state, law enforcement officials today announced an increase in patrols and enforcement of off-road vehicle laws in an effort to protect farm and conservation lands along the Connecticut River in Northampton and Hatfield.

Responsible for enforcing state recreational vehicle laws, Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) officers are also reminding operators of safety guidelines, such as the importance of wearing helmets. Operators are also urged to take off-road vehicle safety courses, operate machines only while sober and receive training on how to operate their vehicles.

To protect public safety, Environmental Police officers will increase patrols in areas known locally as The Meadows, which are part of the federally-protected Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Stepped-up patrols are in response to a high volume of off-road enthusiasts illegally operating ATVs, dirt bikes and four-wheel drive vehicles in the area, particularly on weekends.

"Too often we see the tragic results of unsafe and reckless off-road vehicle use," said Environmental Police Director Col. Aaron Gross. "Our officers will be out this summer patrolling recreational areas across the state to ensure that operators are following the law and operating safely at reasonable speeds."

The Environmental Police are working with Northampton city officials, who have posted warning signs at all entrances to The Meadows section of the city advising of the strict enforcement. Hatfield law enforcement officials regularly patrol the area.

"I welcome the efforts of the Massachusetts Environmental Police to increase enforcement of ATV rules in these sensitive areas and for helping local officials protect farmlands, crops, and improve the safety of ATV operators," said Sen. Stan Rosenberg.

The area comprises privately-owned farmlands interspersed with both state and federally-owned conservation properties, some of which are home to rare or endangered species of plants, insects or wildlife. Many of the areas are also categorized as wetlands, with some flood-control dikes and flood plains, which are also protected by law. Many of the dirt roads throughout the area are actually public ways. It is against Massachusetts state law to operate a recreational vehicle on a public way.

"Crop damage, trespassing, operation of ATVs on public ways and unsupervised operation by youth are principal concerns in Hatfield," said Hatfield Board of Selectmen Chair Marcus J. Boyle. "Enforcement is important, but equally important is reminding folks of the rules."

"This will enable education, deterrence and targeted enforcement of trespassers, vandalism and other illegal activities on the mostly private property under the control of the Northampton Agricultural Association," said Northampton Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz.

State law limits where riders may operate. Unlawful operation on a state Wildlife Management Area carries a fine of up to $100 and/or up to 30 days in jail. Riding in a water supply protection area, such as the Quabbin or Wachusett Reservoirs, can carry fines of up to $10,000 plus up to one year in jail. Operating on private land requires landowner permission. Illegal off-road vehicle operators face fines of up to $250 for trespassing on private property. Individuals who operate recreational vehicles on public ways can be cited with motor vehicle violations.

Vehicles that travel off designated trails are not only breaking the law, but they can cause crop damage, soil erosion or fires, and disturb wildlife and habitat on private or state and federally protected land.

Under Massachusetts law, children between the ages of 10 and 12 must be directly supervised by an adult over the age of 18, and are restricted to operating ATVs on the property on which they reside. Children between the ages of 12 to 14 must be directly supervised by an adult over the age of 18, and may travel off home property with a landowner's permission.

Direct supervision means the supervising person must be able to effectively communicate with the operator either visually or orally despite vehicle noise and line of sight.

Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs dramatically increases the likelihood of accidents resulting in personal injury or death. Rider responsibility begins with the decision not to consume alcohol or drugs while operating an ATV, according to Director Gross.

Two people were killed last year in off-road vehicle-related accidents. There were three killed in 2008. In 2009, MEP officers responded to 50 accidents involving off-road vehicles, which include ATVs, motorized dirt bikes and go-cart vehicles known by names such as Rhinos and Gators. Most of the fatal ATV accidents over the past five years were caused by excessive speed or operator error and nearly half of the victims were either not wearing helmets or did not fasten them.

Safety tips

  • Be cognizant of others out on the trail. Hikers, bikers and horseback riders have the right of way over recreational vehicle operators.
  • Share the trail. Anticipate oncoming traffic and those approaching from behind.
  • Operation of recreational vehicles on public ways is prohibited.
  • Become familiar with state laws, local restrictions and facility rules. Local restrictions may limit where riding is allowed and facilities may limit the use of certain vehicle types.
  • Children under the age of 10 may not operate a recreational vehicle.

Some state parks managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation are open to recreational vehicles. For a list of open parks, visit our Off-Road Vehicles page.

All off-road vehicle accidents should be reported to the Massachusetts Environmental Police at (800) 632-8075.

The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' Office of Law Enforcement, known also as the Massachusetts Environmental Police, is the primary agency responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth's fish and game and boating and recreational vehicle laws. MEP officers enforce laws and regulations related to the protection of natural resources and public parks and land; boat and recreational vehicle use; and hazardous waste disposal. MEP officers serve as stewards of the state's natural resources, patrolling forests, parks, inland waterways and coastal waters throughout the Commonwealth.