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ATVs soon legal on some public roads

Sabine Poux/KDLL

ATVs will soon have the greenlight to drive on many Alaska roads. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration passed a set of regulations to allow all-purpose vehicles on roadways where speed limits are 45 miles per hour or less. The new regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

But that rule won’t extend to areas that already ban ATV use on public roads, including some Kenai Peninsula cities. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, which does not have policing powers, cannot outlaw ATV use.

The regulation change, proposed this spring, has been controversial. 

Opponents say they worry ATVs will make the roads less safe. ATV and snowmachine users accounted for 11 percent of speeding-related fatalities between 2013 and 2017, according to the 2020 Alaska Highway Safety Plan.

But off-road enthusiasts are cheering the new regulations. Nate Titus, who owns Peninsula Powersports, in Soldotna, said he’s glad to see the rules change.

He doesn’t think the roads will be less safe. In fact, he’s not sure the regulations will make much of a difference at all.

“I don’t know if it would be a big boon for my business," Titus said. "Everybody already owns side-by-sides and ATVs around here. It can’t hurt, for sure.”

Plus, he said, there’s already people riding on the roads.

“A lot of the guys already ride the back rides illegally," Titus said. "So that’s where you’re going to see it. But I don’t think these guys are actually going to go out and get license plates.”

Titus said he’d be excited to see the cities make it legal to drive ATVs and side-by-sides in town, though he doubts that would happen.

Soldotna explicitly prohibits driving ATVs on city roads. Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said she’s reviewing the language of the new legislation to determine if the city needs to act for that to stay the case.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said Kenai generally prohibits off-road vehicles on city streets.

But off-road vehicles are defined in part in Kenai’s code as vehicles not authorized to be used on roads according to state law. So, Ostrander said, the city would have to modify the wording of its code or change its definition of what an off-road vehicle is to continue to prohibit off-road use.

Ostander said he plans to talk to the chief of police and city attorney about making a recommendation to the council.

The new rule does not extend to snowmachines, which were included in the original proposal from the governor. The rule also said vehicles have to have a headlight, rear-facing red light, red reflector and a red brake light. Drivers can operate ATVs as long as they have a valid driver license.

Sabine Poux is the news director at KDLL. Originally from New York, she's lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things central peninsula but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at
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