Alaska will allow ATVs on roads starting Jan. 1, but snowmachines and hovercraft aren't included

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Oct. 16—Beginning in 2022, Alaskans can drive four-wheelers and other "all-purpose vehicles" on public roads that have speed limits of 45 mph or less.

Snowmachines and hovercraft remain prohibited on state roads, but on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer signed regulations that remove restrictions on many other vehicles starting Jan. 1.

Local governments' bans are not affected. In the Municipality of Anchorage, for example, those vehicles will still be banned. Many other cities and boroughs lack similar rules, and places like the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Matanuska-Susitna Borough lack policing and road authority, which may make it impossible to create local bans.

Vehicles eligible under the new rules must follow certain guidelines:

—All-purpose vehicles must have a headlight, a rear-facing red light, a rear-facing red reflector and a rear-facing red brake light. The vehicle must have brakes, a muffler, carburetor and throttle.

—Drivers must have a valid driver's license and insurance but don't have to wear a helmet. Passengers need to wear helmets.

—If the vehicle has seatbelts, they must be used, and any vehicle with seatbelts must use a child seat when carrying a child young enough.

—The vehicle must be registered and have license plates.

Alaska's rule change began with a push this spring by the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The Department of Administration — which operates the state's DMVs — and the state Department of Public Safety proposed it together.

Soon after the rule change was proposed, former Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said on social media that within her department, it was assumed that the idea came from a close friend of the governor or a donor to his campaign. She said officials within the department cautioned the governor's office against moving forward, saying it could result in additional road deaths.

She reconfirmed those comments Saturday morning but said she doesn't know what the agency discussed later. Price resigned in February, before the proposal was launched.

The Department of Public Safety and Department of Administration told the Alaska Legislature in April that the goal was "to provide Alaskans the greatest opportunity to safely and affordably travel throughout the state."

Snowmachines and four-wheelers are already used in rural Alaska as regular forms of transportation, and numerous small towns and villages permit them on locally owned roads.

The spring proposal would have allowed snowmachines and hovercraft, as well as wheeled vehicles, on state-owned roads.

That garnered a mixed reaction, as Alaskans submitted dozens of comments for and against the proposal. Opponents generally criticized the idea on safety grounds.

Alaska House Transportation Committee chairman Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, was particularly skeptical. In an April hearing he hosted, University of Alaska Fairbanks civil engineering professor Nathan Belz, assistant director of the Center for Safety Equity in Transportation, called the original proposal "potentially dangerous and ill-advised."

Hopkins said Friday that his views haven't changed. He believes municipalities should be able to opt into the changes, not be forced to opt out by enacting rules.

"This is so dangerous," he said.

Proponents have said other states — including Arizona, Utah, Montana and Wyoming — already allow off-road vehicles under certain circumstances, and Alaska should do the same.

"The vast majority will use this to enjoy Alaska in the respectful spirit of our culture," said Charles Preston of Chugiak.

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