Has Anyone Ever Considered a Dirtbike/ATV Buy Back Program?

Dirt bike accident on H Street, NE in September

“Dear PoPville,

We live in D.C. and are familiar with the dirt bike issue (hear them occasionally, see them even less often) but the posts (and logic: people driving recklessly at times and the lack of any credible or effective deterrent capacity) make me think it’s not a safe situation (duh). This makes me wonder: has anyone, to your knowledge, suggested or even considered a buy-back program (coupled with a delay before possession becomes illegal), as some communities do with guns? (The buy-back part, that is.)

I can think of ways in which this might be somewhat tricky to set up: the buy-back payment would have to be relatively fair (not so low it constitutes a taking, though “Fine, go sell your dirt bike in a nearby state” would be a natural reply; not so high it encourages people to buy dirt bikes and sell them to the city), there would probably need to be a per-person cap (to avoid the “encourage people to buy lots of dirt bikes each and sell them straight to the city for a profit” problem), and you’d need to have enough of a delay to provide fair warning to dirt bike owners but not so much that people can stock up on them to make money from the city.

It just seems like there either need to be enforceable laws governing dirt-bike riding, or there can’t be dirt bikes on city streets. And I’m wondering if this kind of solution has occurred to anyone else (or if there are problems with it which I haven’t considered). Thoughts?”

46 Comment

  • What would be the source for the buyback program funds? Also, I could envision people stealing dirt bikes and ATVs from MD and VA, then selling here for profit. Seems like a well-intentioned, but half-baked idea IMHO.

    • Of course it’s half-baked; it’s a “what if” post on Popville, not a full-fledged policy proposal. I think it’s an interesting idea.

      Also, why would this create a problem of people stealing bikes in order to re-sell them? People can already do that, just not selling them in the District.

  • Is this actually an issue? After 5 years of living here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dirtbike in the city. Perhaps I’m woefully inattentive though…

    • If you’d seen one, you would have seen 30. Running red light and riding on the sidewalks. They rides in gangs, so cause big public safety issues in one place, rather than being spread around one by one.

    • epric002

      i’m going to have to go with woefully inattentive. there is rarely just 1 dirtbike/ATV. it is almost always a pack of them, and you can’t miss them: very loud, blocking traffic, performing stunts, riding on sidewalks, and generally endangering themselves and everyone around them. it is terrifying to get stuck in the middle of one of these mass rides b/c you can’t move out of fear of hitting one of them or another car/cyclist/pedestrian while they zip around and cause chaos.

    • Or you live WOTP. Never saw them when I lived over there.

  • jim_ed

    Considering most of them are stolen to begin with, this would literally be incentivizing theft. Also, when the police do something like a gun buyback, the payment is way below market value for the gun – like a $50 chili’s gift card or some such. Considering how much you’d need to pay to entice people to trade in their dirtbikes, the program would potentially end up costing way too much money.

    • austindc

      I dunno, when I last ate at Chili’s, I remember the food being amazing and $50 seemed like a ton of money. But it was 1991, I was 9, and I would still have preferred to have a dirt bike. So point taken.

  • Buyback stolen property? Doesn’t seem like a good idea…

  • The trouble is that buyback programs usually target people with illegal firearms. To my knowledge owning a dirt bike or ATV is not illegal.

    • It is in DC.

      • It is not illegal to own an ATV or dirtbike in DC. It is illegal to operate one on public streets in DC.

      • Technically they’re not illegal to own in DC. If you had 4 acres, which no one does, you could ride it in your yard. They are not street legal. Or sidewalk legal for that matter.

    • The reason I thought about a buy-back program is that it seemed like one way to reduce the hazard would be to simply make possession illegal – which would make things clearer for riders (i.e., don’t) and for police (i.e., anyone you see, you’re entitled to stop), which would reduce riding (since everyone would know the incentives and capabilities of everyone else) and the associated dangers.

      Also, “sidewalk legal” is a great phrase.

      • “simply make possession illegal”
        Ah, see this is the real goal here; the buyback plan is just a sideshow. You want to make possession of these vehicles illegal. I highly doubt that would be simple. And on what basis? Why on earth should it be illegal for me to have one parked in my backyard, for example? What if my brother who lives in southern Maryland needs a place to store his bike for a couple months? Why not in my garage?

        • “The real goal here” for me is “not to have people driving on the streets, and occasionally sidewalks, who can be indifferent to principles of public safety.” Maybe it’s not a very big problem; maybe it’s not a very important one. Those are also fair questions for people to discuss.

          But it’s been a subject of repeated discussion here, because it’s not rare in the city, and there seems to be a dual consensus: the police have inadequate means of compelling compliance with public safety needs, and the current equilibrium represents an acknowledgement that trying to enforce the law or laws would be even more dangerous.

          I don’t expect prohibition and confiscation would be simple; I’m not sure they’d be fair either. But I think there’s a chance they’d be better than the status quo, which is that people can choose to ignore traffic laws because it’s fun, despite the obvious danger they’re contributing to. If there’s a way to increase safety without such a drastic measure, that’d be fine by me, but it seems like other methods of addressing this are conspicuously ineffective. (And, if just the threat of this made people accept a more comprehensive regulatory scheme, that could be enough. Hell, if everyone agreed not to do dangerous stuff, or even just not to try to outrun police pursuit, that’d be as effective, but neither of those things are going to happen.)

          As for why you can’t, if my proposal or something like it became law, store your bike or your brother’s in town, it’d be because there’s no generally safe way to have them in the city. This seems analogous to an argument that if you can ride one responsibly you should be exempt from the city ban… and while that’s surely true of some people, the city’s already decided not to accept that argument for riding.

          • Mainly I was just trying to point out that you’re proposing a buyback idea, when the real challenge comes before that. You’ve skipped the huge question – should these vehicles be banned? Or somehow regulated? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s a consensus on that, especially based on what you read here. I think you’d have a hard time convincing most city residents that this is a big enough problem to warrant legislative action; I would argue that ordinary car traffic is a far greater danger to the population than ATVs and dirtbikes. You’ve got to make the case for banning these vehicles before you can propose a buyback program.
            Also you say “there’s no generally safe way to have them in the city”, that’s absurd. What’s unsafe about a dirtbike sitting in my garage? You’re treating possession and operation as if they’re the same thing again.
            FWIW, most of this is devil’s advocate. I don’t ride or own ATVs/dirtbikes, and I wouldn’t give a toss if they rounded up the roving hordes and threw them in jail. I wouldn’t care if they (we) banned them. But you’ve got to have a good argument for that, and you haven’t made one at all.

  • I think one problem with a dirt bike buy back program is that riding the dirt bikes is likely enjoyable for the people who do so — just as skiing, horseback riding, surfing, and jet skiing are for those with the wherewithal to do such things. Maybe a solution would be to couple licensing and strict enforcement with creating a place where they could be ridden legally. Then unlicensed dirt bikes could be seized by police. This won’t completely solve the problems, but it will address what I view as a critical underlying issue.

    • You’re suggesting that roving gangs of dirtbikers and ATV’ers are only on the streets because there is no legal/safe place for them to ride their vehicles? Interesting.

      • No, I’m suggesting that ONE critical component of this is the predilection that adolescent and young adult males often have for irritating, loud, fast, risky behavior — and a buy back program doesn’t address this. I’m also guessing that the guys with the dirt bikes may lack access to other options that could easily serve the same purpose. And I’m hoping that a legal space to ride the dirt bikes would address part of the problem, while — perhaps — making it easier to reduce the problem by seizing unregistered bikes.

      • Is there, though?
        I get what you’re saying, that the chaos and fear and danger makes it fun for them. But for someone who just likes to ride a dirtbike or ATV, say, with obstacles or interesting terrain… is there somewhere safe and legal to do that near here?

      • I would postulate that even if provided a safe place to ride them (e.g. more rural areas of PG county) this would not solve the problem. I think there are two aspects of this ride in the city that people find appealing:

        1) The fact that it is illegal (i.e. rush of doing something “outlaw”)

        2) Showing off for members of the opposite sex.

        If we want this problem to go away, we need to be able to confiscate vehicles that are illegally operated in the District AND aggressively target these riders, including aerial survelliance and undercover work. This isn’t cheap, but that’s how it would have to be done.

        • That’s why I suggested a two pronged approach — having a legal place to ride them, combined with a registration component — so that any bike without a registration could be confiscated by police.

      • mainly, i think thats true.

      • I think Anonymous was suggesting that we all form a horseback riding gang.

  • I don’t know that “most” of the dirtbikes are stolen. Believe it or not, even people of modest means will invest a significant amount of money in something they find meaningful.
    The problem I see is that the appeal of most buyback programs is a kind of amnesty – the opportunity to rid yourself of something you are not legally authorized to have and therefore can’t easily sell. Most of the guns recovered in buyback programs are illegal. There is some appeal in being able to get rid of a gun with no questions asked. There’s nothing illegal about owning a dirtbike. You don’t need a license to buy one. You don’t need a license to operate one off road. And if you need or want to sell one, it’s not that hard. So what would be the incentive for participating in a buyback program.

  • In addition to the fiscal aspect of this plan, what would be the reasoning behind a buyback program for items that are not illegal or restricted? As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) you don’t need a license or proof of insurance to purchase an ATV or dirtbike; you don’t need to register it with the government either. It’s not illegal to own one, and it’s not illegal to *possess* one. And as much as I hate these roving gangs of riders (a lot), they don’t pose anywhere near the same threat to public safety as, say, guns.
    In short, this is an idea that does not make sense.

  • Yeah, this seems misguided for all the reasons stated above. Now, if, say a private neighborhood association wanted to come up with the cash and offer to buy back some portion of the legally owned dirtbikes in their neighborhood, be my guest. But using city funds for this would be hair brained at best, and encourage even worse behavior and more thefts at worst.

  • I think the answer lies in updating current statute so that the MPD can crack down on these dirt bike gangs. From what I understand, the cops don’t do much of anything because they can’t.

  • 1. About theft. I don’t know what percentage of such vehicles are stolen property. Maybe it’s such a high percentage that any program would reward too many people it shouldn’t. (If anyone has stats about theft – AnonMPD, you reading this? – I’d be curious. Anyone with hunches or suspicions, it’s the internet, so go ahead too. Even establishing that “everyone thinks it’d be a waste” would be useful information, since it’d clarify the politics.)

    2. About paying for it. I don’t know how cities set these up. If they think it’s likely to be worthwhile, they’ll try to do it. I’m not saying “I know how these work” or “This would work”; I’m wondering what people think about the basic principle. If the city can guess how many vehicles there are, how much to pay, and the odds of a costly asettlement after a bad crash, they can do the math and decide.

    3. About setting a price. You’d probably set a price in the ballpark of the cost, rather than [email protected]’s, so when people complain “No fair, you’re taking my vehicle away!” the reply is “Yes, and we are paying you for it.” This happens in America occasionally; it’s just more conventionally done with land (Google “eminent domain”).

    4. About encouraging participation. Another reason to make the price somewhat fair is to encourage participation, because part of this would be “making riding, and possibly even possession, illegal on city streets.” That’s why you have a buy-back program: to take vehicles that can’t be otherwise adequately regulated off the streets – and let people know if they are on the streets, they’ll be violating a law obviously. Right now, they aren’t, so they aren’t subject to any effective authority. So, you buy out riders, make it illegal, and then you have easier laws to enforce.

    5. Yeah, it looks like fun. It just isn’t safe for other people who also have legitimate claims to those public spaces. (How safe it is for riders is another thing, but I doubt they’d let someone else talk them out of it on “You know you might get hurt!” grounds.)

    6. If D.C. weren’t essentially urban, there’d be some places where people could claim they have a right to ride like this. But there isn’t even that fig leaf.

    • It’s not exactly clear from your post, but these things are already illegal to ride on the street. Like a canoe. Legal to own, not exactly legal to paddle one down 14th street.

      Dirt bikes, 3, and 4 wheel quads are intended for off road use only. Mostly people haul them outside the city or get an enduro that is basically a dirt bike with lights and a quieter muffler that can be ridden to a track or forest. There are actually a few decent placs to ride just outside of DC.

      These guys just like letting lose and breaking the law and the police don’t do a great job of enforcing the law or stopping the behavior.

      • +1 for the canoe analogy.

      • It’s not clear from my post because I hadn’t been sure about that (and the “what the law is” and “what the police can do” and “what the police do do” combination is also confusing).

        The advantage of making possession illegal – in addition to riding, which is hard/awkward to enforce, for various reasons – is that it simplifies things.

        Having some good places to ride near D.C. makes “But I’m just driving out there now!” a relatively plausible excuse. I’m not sure how to take that into account.

    • Re: 1. I think the problem is not how many are now stolen property, it’s how many *will be* if you can turn it in for cash.
      Re: 4. Riding these vehicles on city streets is *already illegal*, but very difficult to enforce. It sounds like you are suggesting making ownership/possession also illegal as an alternative, simply because it’s more enforceable. I’m no lawyer but I can almost guarantee that won’t fly. Also, you suggest that these vehicles “can’t be otherwise adequately regulated” – but they’re not regulated at all (I think; someone correct me if I’m wrong).
      As I said above, ownership/possession is in no way illegal, restricted, or even regulated at present; they don’t present a particularly great public safety hazard. It’s hard to understand the rationale for a buyback program in that context.

    • So as for the bikes being stolen. That may be technically true, but not in practice. So 5 years ago, a bike gets stolen in PG and brought into DC. Once here it passes hands through informal transactions. Handwritten bill of sales or actual bills of sale. Remember they aren’t registered, so the process is much looser. This is why when they are confiscated, they or more likely, their parents can come back and get them with a pickup truck or a van. They have to show proof of ownership to get them, which is usually a pink slip of varying quality.

  • Here’s a link to the September discussion. http://www.popville.com/2014/09/reader-reports-100-guys-on-dirt-bikes-just-went-flying-down-h-st-ne-weaving-through-traffic-one-hit-by-a-car/

    I’m not sure a buy back is the right solution because the problem isn’t the vehicle, it’s the rider. The thrill is breaking the law. The problem is enforecment.
    Nearly every 2 wheeled dirt bike can be inexpensively modified for street use and most manufacturers already have a street legal version. Most likely the riders don’t want to be identified by a plate, don’t want to spend the money on proper registration and insurance, or may not “own” the bike. If someone want to ride a motorcycle in the district they can get a license and a street legal bike.

  • how about a sanctioned area that kids can ride. rfk parking lot? a way for kids to have fun, but do it in a way that doesn’t endanger others.

    • Liability would prevent anyone, including any municipality, from offering up space they own. One kid smashes his head in, and the land owner could find himself in court. Sure, it would be a nuisance suit, but it’s a nuisance no one wants to deal with, just for the sake of giving disadvantaged kids a place to do dangerous fun stuff.

    • Maybe something with a view toward lessening the problem in the future. I’m not really thinking this through here, that’s your job! This would also remove 90% of the excuses for this behavior, the last 10% being that “I saw it in a video and like breaking the law.”

      1. A conversion program to make them street legal.would avoid some problems of the buy-backs. http://www.motosport.com/blog/how-to-make-a-dirt-bike-street-legal
      2. Educatational programs to help promote safety and proper riding. We already do this for other city problems.
      3. Make registration for non-street legal bikes a DC requirement, similar to mopeds, etc. We do this for guns and pets already. You can own a gun in DC that never leaves the box it came in and you need to register it. Your dog and cat need a license even if they’ve never left your house.

  • “Let me sell back my dirt bike and use the money to go toward a better dirt bike!!!”

  • 8:43pm. The ad banner at the top of the page is for four wheelers — starting at $385.

  • Why buy something that it’s totally legal to seize for free? Why stop there? Why not have a cocaine buy-back or a stolen iPhone buy-back?

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