(The Center Square) — The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law last year to curtail dirt bikes and ATVs from use in cities across the state, but not all localities are happy with it.

In Philadelphia, the regulations cause problems for a pre-existing local ordinance. Before the state law passed, Philadelphia’s off-road vehicle law had stronger provisions, but that has now been superseded by the legislature.

One way to find a compromise would be to exempt the city and let it re-implement its more stringent law — a policy advocated by Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia.

“Off-road vehicle use on city streets remains a serious issue in Philadelphia — jeopardizing the safety of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike,” Neilson wrote in a legislative memo for House Bill 1338, his proposal to make an exemption to Act 92. “For the safety of residents citywide, we must allow Philadelphia to reimpose its ordinance … a local ordinance will increase safety for everyone living, working, and visiting in Philadelphia.”

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Per state law, the penalty for a first-time offense is a $50–$200 fine, along with forfeiture of the dirt bike or ATV, and a $100–$300 fine thereafter. Philadelphia’s law carried a $2,000 penalty along with seizure of the vehicle.

The state law’s low penalties are a problem, in Neilson’s view.

“The police have made it quite clear that the lower fine did not deter,” Neilson said. 

HB1338 was referred to the House Transportation Committee on June 7 and awaits further action. 

In April, the House Majority Policy Committee held a hearing on illegal ATV use in Philadelphia; the vehicles “have taken our city hostage,” said Rep. Darisha Parker, D-Philadelphia. “We have a serious problem facing our city, and we cannot allow it to continue.”

Since 2020, the Philadelphia Police Department has seized more than 1,100 illegal vehicles and described 977.

Confiscation can present risks of its own. Footage from an October 2022 incident described as “chaos on wheels” at a Philadelphia gas station showed dirt bike riders throwing bricks and bottles at police officers as they attempted to confiscate a stolen and deserted bike. 

“Local law enforcement policies do play a part in this,” Neilson said, but wants to leave those policies up to local control to define rules about chasing riders and how to best protect the public.

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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