The Hillsdale County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to renew its ordinance permitting the use of off-road vehicles on county roads, making only two changes to the original ordinance introduced in 2014.
ORVs are defined in the ordinance as “motor-driven off-road recreation vehicles capable of cross country travel without the benefit of a road or trail, on or immediately over land, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain,” and include all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles, and dirt bikes, all of which are defined
The ordinance allows ORV drivers aged 16 years or older to travel at no more than 25 mph on primary and local county roads.
Drivers and passengers under 18 years of age must wear helmets, and off-road vehicles are not permitted on state or federal roads and highways, including M‑34 and U.S. Route 12.
In the updates, the board of commissioners removed golf carts from the list of approved ORVs, but cities, towns, and villages within Hillsdale County can pass local ordinances to allow golf carts on county roads.
The board also eliminated the requirement that ORVs display lighted headlights and taillights at all times.
Headlights and taillights are now required between dusk and dawn, or from a half-hour before sunset until a half-hour after sunrise.
The updated ordinance will be effective Sept. 23, upon the expiry of the original ordinance.
The county first adopted the ordinance Sept. 23, 2014, after Michigan passed a law allowing local municipalities to determine whether to permit ORVs on roadways. Every five years, the ordinance expires and can be renewed for a maximum of five years.
Previously, the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department struggled to enforce restrictions on ORV use. Farmers were allowed to drive ORVs on county roads to travel between their fields, but as ORV use became more popular for recreation and other purposes, it became difficult to regulate it fairly.
Sheriff Timothy Parker said he is grateful Hillsdale County can decide how best to regulate ORV use, as the needs of communities vary.
“It’s unique that our local commissioners can weigh the needs of their particular municipality,” he said. “Our commissioners value the needs of a rural community. As sheriff, I appreciate that.”
Hillsdale County Commissioner Bruce Caswell said ORVs are a versatile and reliable form of transportation used for both farming and recreation throughout the county.
“Living in a rural area, it’s very convenient to hop on your ORV and run out to the other end of your property or visit your neighbors,” he said. “In a snowstorm, sometimes an ORV can get through conditions other vehicles can’t. It’s just a convenience thing.”
Off-road vehicles can be misused just as any other vehicle can, but Parker said residents have been respectful of the ordinance’s stipulations.
“We haven’t had major problems or incidents involving ORVs to the extent that, as sheriff, I would recommend they not renew the ordinance,” he said.
Off-road vehicles are practical forms of transportation in rural areas, and Hillsdale County Commissioner Tim Shaw said he believes residents should be able to use them.
“We don’t want to be too restrictive with what we’re enforcing,” he said. “If people are going to be responsible, they should have the freedom to use ORVs.”