Cars have license plates. Why? So law enforcement officers can identify them, especially when they are involved in moving violations.
Off-highway vehicles should have license plates too, for the same reason. But in Utah, the registration sticker for an OHV is tiny, only 3 inches by 3 inches.
Good luck to the park ranger or police officer who tries to identify at a distance an OHV that is being driven off-trail in violation of the law.
Utah requires that most off-highway vehicles be registered (farm equipment and OHVs registered for highway use are exempt). The registration sticker is supposed to be affixed to the OHV "in a plainly visible position." But when the sticker is so small, "plainly visible" becomes plainly impossible.
A public advocacy group is arguing that license plates or stickers for OHVs should be at least 4 inches by 7 inches with ID numbers at least 1.5 inches tall. It also recommends, sensibly enough, that the numbers appear on a background of contrasting color, so that they are easier to read.
It's a mystery why the organization, Responsible Trails America, should have to campaign for this. It should be public policy, especially in Western states like Utah with huge tracts of public lands.
But then again, maybe it's not such a mystery. Utah passed a law that required larger stickers in 2004, but indignant off-roaders got that provision repealed in 2006.
In the meantime, the number of registered OHVs has multiplied like rabbits. There currently are 109,224 off-road ATVs registered in Utah, according to the Utah Tax Commission. Another 99,469 off-road motorcycles are registered.
As the number of ATVs has exploded, so has damage to public and private lands by a minority of heedless riders who delight in bushwhacking off of designated trails. This causes extensive environmental damage to watersheds by denuding and compacting soils. It scares wildlife and carves up animal habitat. Engine noise often ruins the wilderness experience for people who hike or walk, fish or hunt without motorized transport.
The extensive damage to public and private lands from irresponsible ATV use has caused land managers to designate approved trails and plead with ATV riders to stay on them. But rangers often have to oversee hundreds of thousands of remote acres, an impossible task.
At the very least, the Legislature should make ATV license tags large enough that officers and members of the public could report vehicles used in violations when they occur.