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Hillsdale County renews ordi­nance that allows all-terrain vehicles, utility task vehicles, and dirt bikes to be on roads. | National Park Service

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.”