Johnson, Vermont

On the 2021 Australian ballot for the annual Johnson Town Meeting, there were two questions concerning ATV use on our town roads:

1) Shall the Selectboard repeal the Ordinance regulating ATVs (all-terrain vehicles)? 

2) Shall the Selectboard undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the environmental impacts of ATV use on Class 4 roads in the Town of Johnson?

Unfortunately they were voted down.

Read letters to the editor from:

Johnson residents have distributed the following statement:


1. SAFETY ISSUES for ATV riders, as well as for pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists, horse-riders, and motorists.

a. State statutes don’t allow ATVs on roads (except Class 4 roads that are unplowed in winter) because they don’t deem them road-worthy. The ATV Operator’s Manual (written by the DMV) defines ATVs as “non-highway recreational vehicles” and the ATV Safety Institute of America says ATVs “should never operate on public roads and should always avoid paved surfaces.”
b. Consumer Federation of America, a 50-year-old association of nearly 300 nonprofit consumer groups states, “In spite of warnings from manufacturers, federal agencies, and consumer advocates that ATVs are unsafe on roadways, an increasing number of states have passed laws allowing ATVs on public roads. The majority of ATV deaths take place on these roads and action is needed to reverse this dangerous trend.”
c. Motorists complain that they can’t see ATVs over a rise in the land, can’t see them when pulling out of driveways, etc.
d. According to a Green Mountain ATV member at the 07/20/2020 Selectboard meeting in Morristown, only 2% of ATVs have turn signals.
e. ATVers often ride in packs of 5, 10, or more machines. The ATV speed limit is 25 mph on town roads, while automobiles may go 35 mph on the same roads. A car stuck behind a line of 10-20 ATVs cannot easily pass; the dirt roads aren’t wide enough, and ATV riders seldom pull over (or stop) to allow cars to pass.
f. ATV accidents often go unrecorded, but according to a 2020 VTDigger article, ATV-related injuries in Vermont have tripled since 2018.

2. ENFORCEMENT ISSUES: We don’t have adequate resources to enforce speed limits, noise violations, helmet laws, single-file formation, or registration issues.

a. Lamoille County Sheriff, Roger Marcoux, has said he cannot enforce ATVs since his department has neither the time, manpower, or ATVs to pursue violators.
b. Self-enforcement by the Vermont ATV Sportsman Association (VASA) members does not work: VASA members are not capable of clocking ATV speeds, measuring decibel levels, checking proper registration, issuing fines, or carrying out any other forms of policing.
c. VASA claims to have wardens from the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife who enforce regulations on ATV trails, but wardens are not authorized to enforce regulations on our Town roads.

3. NOISE ISSUES: although ATVs do have mufflers, they’re woefully inadequate.

a. Most ATVs register 85-100 decibels, as loud as a power mower. (The threshold of permanent hearing damage as set by OSHA is 85 decibels.) Often riders will modify their mufflers to get more power at the expense of less muffling.
b. They create a 2-mile sound-print: you can hear them coming from a mile away and departing for another mile.
c. They disturb the peace and quiet of people who live on the back roads, as well as scaring walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and horse-riders.
d. The ATV ordinance directly contradicts the Noise Ordinance, which protects our right to peace and quiet in our houses and on our property.

4. MORE NOISE ISSUES: While a single ATV makes noise at 85 -100 decibels, most ATV riders now travel in groups – sometimes 10 or more in a pack. The noise they generate is exponentially greater in loudness and duration. ATVs have also grown in size to include 4-seaters and 6-seaters. The larger machines require larger engines, making more noise.

5. YET MORE NOISE ISSUES: While VASA claims to be respectful of property owners who live on the roads, ATV riders (and manufacturers) have done nothing to improve the mufflers on their vehicles. An article on the subject says, “ATVs are so noisy because the engine doesn’t have much sound insulation installed. The engine is left mostly uncovered and so when the engine revs you can really hear it, especially if you are the one riding. Compare this to a car which has an engine cover which helps with some sound deadening. One of the other reasons ATVs are so noisy is because ATV manufacturers do not bother with more effective mufflers for the machines. By 2020, this situation should have changed, but it hasn’t.” [;;]

6. PRIVATE PROPERTY ISSUES: in Lamoille County there have been numerous complaints about ATVers riding illegally on private property.

7. ATVS ON DOWNTOWN ROADS: the Selectboard gave verbal approval for VASA to use downtown roads in Johnson starting in the spring of 2021. They will be allowed to ride on Main Street between Gould Hill Road (near Union Bank) and Route 100C (near Maplefields). They will also be allowed to ride on Railroad Street. DO WE WANT ATVs making downtown traffic congested, noisy, and dangerous?

8. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT; not only do ATVs pollute the atmosphere, but they also degrade Class 4 roads, impacting run-off into nearby streams and rivers, compacting soil, and destroying vegetation.

9. THE ECONOMIC ARGUMENT: VASA claims that ATVs are good for the local economy, bringing riders into town to buy gas, drinks and food. But at what cost to our way of life in downtown Johnson and on our back roads?
a. Is the economic impact of ATVS – their purchase of gas, food, and drink – worth the impact of their noise, pollution, and traffic dangers?
b. Would there be an even greater economic impact if Johnson were a non-ATV town: inviting pedestrians, hikers, bicyclists, and others to stop, shop and eat in a peaceful downtown Johnson?
c. Will Johnson’s property values decline as residents abandon a town lacking peace and quiet?

10. JOHNSON’S FUTURE: VASA envisions a future in which Johnson roads are connected to ATV trails running across the northern tier of the State. They envision ATV riders from throughout the Northeast using these trails and roads– possibly hundreds of ATVs every day on a weekend. IS THIS WHAT WE WANT FOR JOHNSON?

11. INSPIRATION can be found from other towns that have successfully restricted ATVs on their roads. Craftsbury is one example. In 2019 ATV riders created a petition asking for access to most of the roads as well as an unlimited curfew. In the ensuing vote, they lost, and are now only allowed on three town roads in Craftsbury.