GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan lawmaker is pushing for some changes to get more patrols on the state’s popular off-road trails.
State Rep. Curtis VanderWall, R-Ludington, introduced House Bill 4021 in January and has spent the past two months working on it in the House Judiciary Committee. Over the last few years, trail popularity has soared — not just for snowmobilers in the winter but also for four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles during warmer parts of the year.
“The No. 1 goal for anybody here in the state of Michigan is to make sure we have fun, but let’s do it safely and let’s make sure those opportunities continue,” VanderWall told News 8.
Currently, ORV officers have to go through a 17-week certification course, while marine and snowmobile safety officers only need to do 40 hours of training.
“It was a blip in the system that wasn’t expected,” VanderWall said.
HB 4021 would lower the training requirement to be the same for all three areas. VanderWall likened the ORV officers’ course to “basically a full policeman’s course,” when in reality trail officers only need a specific set of training.
“They can be more of an educator than a law official. That’s really what we want to do,” VanderWall said. “If there are officers that are out on the trails, people are a little bit more respectful. They have the opportunity to address the safety concerns while they are on the trails. If you’re in a side-by-side, do you have your seat belt on? Are you strapped in? (Making sure) you’re not overloading the unit. For a four-wheeler, do you have your helmet on? Do you have the safety precautions put in place?”
Right now, the higher number of riders on the trails means more opportunities for crashes and can force patrols off the roads, making the roads less safe, as well.
“If there is an issue on a trail, there are hundreds of miles of trails in certain counties. If you only have one officer on because you (don’t have enough officers) to put anybody else on a trail, you’re having a police officer responding who should be doing road patrol,” he said.
Serving as a trail officer is a paid position, covered by a state-funded grant program, meaning the higher number of trail officers would not tax local sheriff’s departments.
House Bill 4021 passed out of committee Wednesday and sent to the House floor. VanderWall expected the bill would move quickly and earn support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We’re going to see huge support by legislators here and we already know that the state law enforcement is 100% behind this,” he said. “So I expect it to pass and hopefully we can get it done very quickly so we can get officers trained and have a great summer with a lot of fun.”