The Las Cruces City Council reviewed the current UTV ordinance Monday, discussing the impact of increased UTV use in 2020.
The current ordinance, which allows for UTVs on municipal roads, was adopted in early 2020 and amended to include UTVs capable of reaching speeds over 45 miles per hour in September.
Mayor Ken Miyagishima says he’s been surprised by the amount of UTV use in Las Cruces.
“It was probably almost a year ago that we had passed the ordinance to allow UTVs. And I have to say, I for one had no idea the magnitude of how many UTVs there are in the city,” Miyagishima said. “I know some have taken videos, and the city does their best, the city police do, to regulate it. But it has just gotten very difficult.”
In a month-to-month comparison, the Las Cruces Police Department reported a 64% increase in calls related to UTVs and ATVs from 2019 to 2020. On average, the department received 15 complaints per month. Deputy Police Chief Paul Brock says the pandemic has also been a factor in increased UTV and ATV use.
“What's interesting to note about this is, I think that part of the COVID pandemic, with closing down other means of recreation for citizens, and the people of Las Cruces, they begin to look for alternate means of recreation, one of them being UTVs and ATVs,” Brock said. “So this may have contributed to the amount of calls that the police department was receiving in regarding complaints to these types of vehicles.”
April, July and October of 2020 were the months with the most reported UTV and ATV activity. Councilor Gabe Vasquez says he’s witnessed multiple instances of unsafe UTV driving since the ordinance was passed last year.
“Since enacting the ordinance, I will just say from my own personal experiences, I'd say at least half of the UTV drivers I've seen driving on city streets are, I guess what I would characterize as probably driving a little bit unsafely, oftentimes speeding,” Vasquez said. “It's mostly the violation that I see, while pulling out of gas stations and other places, just you know, obviously showing off what their vehicles can do.”
Though unsafe UTV driving has been widely reported to the police, there have been no reported accidents involving UTVs in the last year. Deputy Police Chief Paul Brock, who says certifying UTVs through inspections will help, stressed that educating the public on the requirements of UTV use will be imperative.
“I think when the ordinance first passed, it was kind of almost like a free for all. Everybody just thought, oh, everything is legal now,” Brock said. “We can drive these things wherever we want to and do whatever we want. And they really didn't understand that there were specific guidelines to the ordinance and requirements.”
Councilor Johana Bencomo also addressed the need to continue education efforts in the UTV and ATV community.
“This is a tough issue for me, because I feel like this community, this ATV community, I have seen them organize very well,” Bencomo said. “I'm just curious, you know, in continuing to work with this group of people to do better outreach and education in the UTV community so that folks understand what's at stake, like what's at stake here for them, and why it is that their neighbors are wanting them to be more respectful.”
The council will spend the next six months reviewing UTV use before making any further decisions.