The Bismarck City Commission is considering allowing licensed drivers to operate off-highway vehicles that meet specific standards on public roads in the city.
The commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a public hearing at their next meeting on a proposed ordinance that would specify the kind of OHVs allowed on city streets.
The standards include a minimum width of 50 inches, a maximum weight of 8,000 pounds, a roll cage, a working horn and turn signals, and a minimum speed of 25 mph. There are nearly 800 such vehicles in Bismarck registered with the state, along with about 300 in Mandan, according to the Department of Transportation.
Vallely Sport and Marine General Manager Josh Vallely helped the commission draft the ordinance and has been a major supporter of a change.
“I testified multiple times at city commission meetings, just helping the commission work through some of the slang, the language of our industry in order to make it clear,” he said. “The biggest thing about the Class 3 designation is a steering wheel and that it’s a full-size off-road vehicle. It has a roll cage on it, maintains current speeds up to speed limits. There are two-, four-, six-seat models, all kinds of variations.”
All-terrain vehicles, commonly called four-wheelers, will still not be allowed on public streets.
The proposed changes would help bring Bismarck in line with other local OHV laws in North Dakota, as cities such as Mandan and Minot have already created ordinances allowing the vehicles on public streets.
The changes in Bismarck would be similar to those made by Mandan in recent years, with a few key exceptions. Bismarck would allow licensed drivers 16 and older to operate a registered Class 3 OHV on city streets, whereas the legal age in Mandan is 18. That could create a problem of differing requirements.
“People are going to have to know that there might be some differences where they go, and that’s on them,” Bismarck Police Chief Dave Draovitch said. “Obviously we can do some education if this passes, an effort to make sure people are well aware of what they have to do to be in the city of Bismarck.”
The proposed ordinance applies only to city roads with a speed limit under 55 mph, meaning the vehicles would still not be allowed on highways and interstates in Bismarck.
With new traffic laws comes concern about driving hazards and conditions that may be caused by the changes, but supporters of the ordinance are confident in its likely effectiveness.
“I don’t think there will be any effect on traffic. These are essentially bigger than some of the small-sized vehicles on the road and they maintain speeds,” Vallely said. “I actually think it will provide even a safer environment because there were people driving them on the roads that weren’t legal and didn’t have the right requirements, whereas this clearly defines the requirements. We can make sure we have the proper gear and proper units on the street."
The city commission could take final action on the proposal during its June 11 meeting.