LOWVILLE — Utility vehicles, while similar to all-terrain vehicles, may not be operated on roads or ATV trails, according to an opinion from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
"A UTV can only be operated on private property with the permission of the owner," Everett A. Mayhew Jr., assistant counsel from DMV's Albany office, wrote in a recent letter to Lewis County Attorney Richard J. Graham.
The letter came in response to Mr. Graham's request for a written opinion on UTVs, also known as side-by-side ATVs because they have driver's side and passenger side seats like a car or dune buggy.
"We wanted to clarify the issue," he said. "With the development of the trail system, we wanted to get an opinion."
Mr. Mayhew's letter was forwarded to the sheriff and district attorney, Mr. Graham said.
"It's inconvenient, at best," said Robert C. Diehl, Lewis County's trail coordinator. "But, until we resolve the issue, that's the law."
A UTV may not currently be registered in New York, and "because it can't be registered, it can't be used on the public highways of the state," Mr. Mayhew said.
"The law has not caught up with current technology," Mr. Graham said.
The definition of an ATV under state Vehicle and Traffic Law restricts such vehicles to 70 inches in width and 1,000 pounds of dry weight. UTVs typically exceed that weight limit, keeping them from being registered as ATVs. And they don't fit under any other motor vehicle categories in state law.
Since UTVs may be legally registered in some states, such as Pennsylvania, Mr. Graham asked if those registrations would be recognized here. He also asked if UTVs could be used in special events, such as the Snirt Run being held today and ATV rallies planned for later this summer.
Mr. Mayhew wrote that "a Pennsylvania registration of a UTV has no effect on its status in New York" and that the special-event designation applies only to ATVs, not UTVs.
"The remedy for the restrictions on UTVs is ultimately legislative, as it is with any vehicle not contemplated under the current statutory scheme," he added.
That's not exactly a new concept.
Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, has introduced a bill that would increase the weight limit in the ATV definition to 1,500 pounds, effectively allowing most UTVs to be covered under that category. The bill — co-sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth O. Little, R-Queensbury, William J. Larkin Jr., R-Orange, and James L. Seward, R-Milford — awaits action in the transportation committee.
"The proposed legislation would allow more New Yorkers to register their ATVs in New York State, which would in turn provide for increased revenue for New York State due to the cost of registration," Mr. Griffo wrote in a sponsor's memo on the bill.
However, his memo also notes that similar proposed legislation didn't make it out of the transportation committee in 2006 and 2007. And, last year, it passed the Senate but then failed to make it out of the Assembly's transportation committee.
Lewis County over the past few years has seen an increase in UTV use, both by local residents and riders from outside the area, Mr. Diehl said.
Detractors of the proposed legislation are apparently concerned about the potential for UTVs, due to their weight, to tear up the land, he said.