Off Road Vehicles and Quality of Life

There is a need to  examine this type of recreational noise and its harmful effects on quiet, rural communities.

Why do we live here?  

In a recent survey for community planning, residents were asked why they chose to live in a rural community.  The overwhelming reason was peace and quiet. Normally the only sounds are the trade winds through the trees,  insects and birds, the animals in pasture.  Blissful peace and quiet. Residents work hard to care for the aina; to keep their places clean and beautiful.

Fragile paradise

But this environment can be shattered by the sharp staccato sounds of sport ATVs and dirt bikes.   The startle effect is dramatic. One does not know when it will begin or when it will end.  There is a feeling of loss of control of one’s own environment. One cannot get away. The sound penetrates the walls of their homes.

The reason for this intrusion is that a few have decided to turn their property into dirt tracks for sport ATVs and dirt bikes.  Some riders simply  trespass and ride on public or private property. The noise from these operations travels long distances and may be heard nearly a mile away.

These machines have no purpose other than racing and usually have aftermarket exhausts that are so loud that they would not be legal on a sanctioned track.

Noise has been used a a military weapon and an instrument of torture. There is a wide body of research on the impact of noise on humans and animals.

Physiological Effects

  • Dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Reduced sleep
  • Hearing loss

Psychological Effects

  • Annoyance
  • Stress, tension
  • Disturbance to communication
  • Despondency
  • Aggression, rage

Other effects of sport ATV & dirt bike operation

  • Restricts neighbor’s outdoor activities
  • Disturbs domestic animals and livestock
  • Wildlife disturbance and displacement
  • Erosion

National problem

This is even a problem for the National parks. U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said:  “Noise alone is a huge issue. Noisy machines can drive threatened, endangered and sensitive species from habitat they need to survive. Noise can pit users against each other or user against homeowners; it’s maybe the biggest single source of social conflict we have when it comes to outdoor recreation.”

We need to distinguish between types of off road riding.

We need to make a distinction between the types of riding and the types of vehicles to be able to understand the issues. Recreationally, we have trails for  exploration and getting close to nature and we have sport use such as racing.

Two Flavors of ATVs

Utility. Used for tending livestock. Transportation around property. Fairly quiet. Intermittent use.

Sport/Racing. Powerful. Loud. Recreational use only. Continuous use for extended periods.

Public vs private tracks.

Operation of these machines on private property and other unregulated, unsupervised areas is inherently unsafe in addition to being environmentally irresponsible.

Rider safety-The level of experience and training of the rider is critical to safety. Several Hawaii ATV accidents have resulted in fatalities. Rider safety cannot be monitored at a private track.

Vehicle compliance with safety and environmental standards cannot be monitored

These machines are often modified with after-market parts including mufflers that are many times louder than stock. There is no way to monitor sound levels on private tracks.

Safety equipment- Helmets and other safety equipment are required on public tracks.

Legal and safe places to ride do exist

With proper public and private effort there could be more. Currently there is the Hilo track for racing and sport and the Upper Waiakea ATV/dirt bike park for trail riding. It is simply not necessary for an entire neighborhood to be be subjected to the noise pollution.

It is important to know that this is recreational noise

  • This is not yard maintenance noise
  • This is not construction noise.
  • This is not agricultural equipment noise.
  • It is noise produced for the enjoyment of an individual to the detriment of many.

What can you do?

Spread the word in your community

Coordinate with local police

Advise your councilman of the need to control this noise.

Contact the head of the Planning Department.  Dirt tracks are not legal.

Post a welcome sign in your community advising to please not disturb the peace and quiet.

All of us need to examine how we will approach issues that affect the quality of life for rural residents. Are we going to cast a blind eye to the seemingly  small events that (for now) only affect relative few people? Or, are we going to take a pro-active stance and address environmental issues to insure that the Big Island continues to be  a wonderful place to live? It’s our choice…