Dirt bikers ruffle city

Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting saw the discussion of how to best deal with dirt bikers who drive illegally on New Haven’s streets.
Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting saw the discussion of how to best deal with dirt bikers who drive illegally on New Haven’s streets. Photo by Christopher Peak.

New Haven is seeking help from the state legislature to crack down on dirt bikers that drive illegally on New Haven’s streets with near impunity.

At Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 briefed the full board about recent lobbying of state legislators to increase the consequences for illegal use of dirt bikes and ATVs. Police have tried to issue fines and confiscate bikes, but without the legislature’s approval of higher fines or the ability to keep bikes indefinitely, offenders can currently reclaim their bikes and speed through the streets within a few days, Elicker added. Throughout the city, residents have complained about the noise and safety concerns, aldermen said.

“[The bikers] have free reign over the city,” said Elicker, who is also chair of the Board’s City Services and Environmental Policy Committee. “It sets the tone of a lawless city.”

Teenagers and young adults are violating the law by riding their dirt bikes on public land, popping wheelies and speeding through the city’s streets, sidewalks and parks, Elicker said. In the past, police attempted to stop offenders in the act, but a no-chase policy now prevents officers from engaging bikers in high-speed pursuits that may end in an accident. Elicker added that police have focused instead on confiscating the illegally operated vehicles off the road, asking neighbors to report where bikes are stored.

Since the riders do not need a license, the lawbreaking is particularly dangerous, Board President Jorge Perez said. In 2008, a teenager on a dirt bike died after colliding with a van in Newhallville, and in March, a seven-year-old girl was knocked over by a dirt biker on Whalley.

“In addition to the noise [the bikes] make, people can be run over,” Perez explained. “It’s a safety and quality of life issue.”

Board of Aldermen Majority Leader Alphonse Paolillo said city officials are analyzing laws already on the books to aid the police department, but he added that the state needs to strengthen the laws to allow for full enforcement.

State Representative Pat Dillon plans to introduce legislation in next year’s session, which begins in January, to increase monetary fines from their current $250 maximum to make retrieval of confiscated dirt bikes and ATVs more difficult. Elicker said he hopes to see fines increased to $1,000 or $2,000 — an amount high enough to effectively confiscate the vehicles indefinitely.

Gary Holder-Winfield, New Haven’s representative in the state assembly, said that if any legislation is proposed, it will likely have little opposition.

“I would suppose that no one is going to show up and say, ‘I want to have my illegal dirt bike,’” he said.

Elicker said he suspects support for a harsher law would be unanimous among New Haven’s aldermen.

A petition by Stop Illegal Traffic on Our Streets, a coalition of residents opposed to the bikes, currently has more than 400 signatures.

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