City may allow side-by-sides for city streets
Side-by-side alternative vehicles may show up before long on the city streets of Hays, if enthusiasts of the small, nimble non-automobiles get their wish.
Used primarily for sport or agriculture, the smaller than standard, four-wheel vehicles are popular with farmers and with those who like to play on sand dunes and off-road.
At Thursday’s regular work session of the city commission, a group of residents asked the commissioners to approve an ordinance allowing them on the streets of Hays.
The vehicles, some of which can go upwards of 65 miles an hour, already are legal on the highways of Kansas, as well as in the towns of Ellis, Victoria, Ness City, Garden City, Dodge City and other cities in western Kansas.
“I just want our community to be able to use the equipment that they have purchased,” said Neal Younger, an Ellis County Commissioner who brought the proposal before the city commission.
With Thursday’s meeting at city hall, 1507 Main, being a work session, no action was taken, but the commissioners decided to take up the matter again after they get more information.
Lots of questions
The four commissioners, with Mayor Sandy Jacobs absent, asked the group of people in favor who attended a lot of questions about how the vehicles are managed in other towns.
Various people in the audience explained that the vehicles are subject to the same rules of the road as any car, truck or motorcycle, require a valid driver’s license, but aren’t registered with the state for a license plate.
Towns that allow them have varying rules. Some allow them only sunrise to sunset, require registration with the city, charge a fee for a tag or sticker showing registration, and may require proof of insurance, blinkers, horns, mirrors, helmets, windshields, goggles or roll bars.
Billy Briney, owner of Briney Motor Sports at 1000 E. U.S. Hwy 40 Bypass, said on Friday that he typically sells about 10 to 15 of the vehicles a month, although inventory is limited now by the pandemic. On his showroom floor now, the sports model sells for $19,800, while a fully outfitted ag model retails for $25,500.
Farmers like the ones with a bed that raises and lowers, a winch, a temperature-controlled cab, electric windows, and other amenities. They use them for herding cattle, fixing fence, easily traveling through a pasture or around crop fields.
There’s no evidence of increased accident rates compared to other vehicles, according to law enforcement at the meeting.
“I spoke to the Garden City police department and they really haven’t had any problems with the side-by-sides. They didn’t recall any accidents either,” said Hays chief of police Don Scheibler. “Dodge City didn’t indicate they had any problems either.”
Ellis County Sheriff Scott Braun said they can be on any road in the county, except U.S. Highway 183. He pointed out that drivers of the vehicles have to be old enough to have a valid license.
“We don’t have a lot of accidents in the county. We can tell when the young ones are playing. All you gotta do is go to the corner intersection and see how it’s torn up,” said Braun. “But as a whole they’re pretty safe.”
City staff in putting the item on the commission’s agenda, said the vehicles could be safely allowed.
“I think you can put whatever constraints you want on these vehicles as long as it doesn’t conflict with state law,” said city manager Toby Dougherty, noting later, “State law allows them, but you have to take affirmative action to allow them.”
Dougherty questioned requiring a license plate, which would require a separate regulatory system that would burden the city.
Commissioner Michael Berges asked if the vehicles could be restricted to certain major streets in town.
But commissioner Shaun Musil said picking three or four streets would add a lot of work for the police.
Victoria charges $15 to register the side-by-sides, according to County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, who was at the meeting. Musil mentioned the fee in Dodge City is $25. Ellis requires inspections every year, said Younger.
Retired Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Al Ackerman, Hays, told the commissioners he’s been using the vehicles for 30 years and doesn’t see them as a problem.
“The state allows these mopeds, which is basically a bicycle with a motor on it,” he said. “To me that’s a whole lot more dangerous than driving a Polaris Ranger. …I personally don’t see any reason why we don’t allow them.”
Commissioner Ron Mellick asked Scheibler to find out if other cities have an age limit on who can ride in the side-by-side, if car seats are allowed, and if helmets are required. Mellick also strongly advocated that if approved, the fine for no insurance should be $1,000, which is higher than the $300 fine for other vehicles.
Briney at the meeting suggested the city require roll cages, seat belts and a minimum tire size.
“That would help get away from the slower vehicles,” he said. “As far as the safety of them, honestly, you hear a lot about the accidents. The majority of them accidents you hear about are off-roading, not on the road.”
Some of the older models, which are slower, don’t belong on the road, he said.
“That’s why I talked about roll cages last night,” said Briney, referencing the city commission meeting. “It kind of goes to the golf carts. They’re slower, their small, nothing against golf or anything else, I don’t believe they’re road worthy.”