Law enforcement, store owners warn of the dangers of ORVs

News Photo by Julie Riddle Doreen Kriniak, owner of Sports Unlimited in Alpena Township, rearranges helmet displays at the store on Monday.

ALPENA — Back-to-back off-road vehicle crashes in Northeast Michigan over the weekend highlight a statewide problem resulting from a rush of people eager to enjoy Michigan’s outdoors.

On Saturday, dispatchers learned of multiple ORV crashes in Northeast Michigan, including one involving injury in the Nicholson Hill Road area in Ossineke.

The same day, the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office responded to two ATV crashes, reported within 10 minutes of each other, in two locations. Police arrested both drivers for drunk driving. One went to the hospital.

Deputies responded to another ATV crash in Presque Isle Township on Aug. 14, also resulting in arrest.

Between June 27 and July 10, Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers in Montmorency County assisted with at least four ORV-related incidents, including two drivers hospitalized, one ORV that rolled over onto and broke the driver’s limbs, two drunk drivers, and one driver injured deep in the woods with no cell service.

Off-road vehicle licenses traditionally sell well in Michigan, but, said DNR law enforcement division supervisor Mike Mshar, “This is a different animal we’re dealing with right now.”

ORV license sales increased by 33% since 2019, according to DNR data. The trend matches a recent surge of hunting license sales in the state, with residents seemingly eager to get outdoors.

The increased license sales have led to an uptick not only in ORV usage but also to a jump in crashes all over the state, Mshar said.

A crush of people buying side-by-sides, four-wheelers, and dirt bikes depleted store inventories and doubled the number of people on trails this summer, including such paths as the ORV trails through Alpena and Montmorency counties, Mshar said.

First-time riders overestimate their ability to handle one of the fast, high-horsepower vehicles. The vast majority of crashes on ORVs this year are caused by people driving too fast on machines they don’t know how to handle, he said.

The DNR tries to educate people on ORV safety, but, Mshar said, “we can’t be out there every minute to tell people to slow down.”

Many crashes happen on trails, tying up emergency responders who have to go find them. Helicopters have been called into airlift injured ORV drivers in wooded, remote areas.

The DNR urges people to slow down, ride sober, and know what they don’t know before heading out on a new machine, Mshar said.

At the Sports Unlimited store in Alpena Township on Monday, store owner Doreen Kriniak shook her head at the way ORVs have flown out of the store this summer.

The store can’t keep ATVs or side-by-sides in stock more than a day or two. She worries about the buyers who don’t know how to handle the heavy, high-powered machines.

“People are so excited,” she said. “So geeked. ‘It’s just a toy. It’s not going to hurt me,’ they think.”

Side-by-side drivers often buckle their seatbelt and then sit on it to disengage a safety mechanism that limits the machine’s speed if belts are not latched, Kriniak said.

That trick cost a life in an ORV crash that killed two people last year in Northeast Michigan, she said.

She sells a lot of helmets, but she doesn’t know if anyone wears them.

She worries most about the children she sees driving ATVs. Adults with drivers licenses, at least, have the benefit of understanding right-of-way and have built up habits of braking and shifting.

“But, if you don’t have even that under your belt,” she said, “who’s to say you will live?”

Check out the interactive graphic below.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.


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