Police ATV crackdown could save riders' lives

An ATV rider wheelies down Lehigh Avenue on a recent Sunday. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

An aggressive crackdown on illegal all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes by Philadelphia police means there’s a bit more peace and quiet in several inner-city neighborhoods.

Police recently seized 37 ATVs and dirt bikes across a swath of North Philadelphia and in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. The Police Department’s promise of a proactive push to rid city streets and parks of more illegal riders is welcome.

At stake is the safety of motorists and pedestrians, who often have to dodge off-road vehicles driven recklessly on roads and even on sidewalks. Illegal ATV enthusiasts are also said to be wreaking havoc in Fairmount Park. Parks chief Michael DiBerardinis says the vehicles destroy trails and greenery, in addition to breaking the calm for all park visitors.

As for the bravado of all the ATV riders who contend they harm no one, their hobby on too many occasions has proven deadly to their group. Fatal ATV crashes in recent years have involved cars, trucks, and other obstacles.

The good detective work, including undercover tracking of ATVs, that led to the police seizures sidelined a mere fraction of the rolling stock. So it’s encouraging to hear that police will target other illegal riders. Prior to the Aug. 5 sweep, police seized 20 vehicles in November, which were later auctioned. It’s clear that regular stings are needed

The ATV confiscation campaign by police has to cheer residents of Kensington and other neighborhoods plagued by the hazards, noise, and fumes from the vehicles.

It’s also a signal to residents that, more than ever, it’s time for them to partner with police in tracking down illegal riders. As Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has noted, residents are the first to know when the loud ATVs hit the streets. Their tips to police could prove invaluable, especially now that they know officers will respond.