ATVs and dirt bikes riding down a Detroit road
A caravan of ATVs and dirt bikes travel south down Joseph Campau Street near the Detroit RiverWalk on April 27, 2021. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Malachi Barrett)

The Detroit Police Department wants to ban gas stations from selling fuel to people illegally driving all-terrain vehicles on city streets. 

Deputy Police Chief Franklin Hayes argued in favor of the proposal Monday at a City Council Public Health and Safety Committee meeting, saying ATVs are “running rampant” in downtown streets. Council Member Scott Benson drafted an ordinance in response to police concerns, which would prohibit gas stations from selling gasoline to people for unregistered ATVs or off-road vehicles and make it illegal for people to buy gasoline for those machines. The ordinance would also require signs to be posted at gas stations notifying people of the rules. 

“Last night a pack of ATVs came down public streets – popping wheelies, driving down sidewalks – and we were able to impound one, but this is an issue we’re doing our best to get ahead of,” Hayes said. “We took a strategy to what’s fueling this issue in a literal sense, they drive right up to a gas station, fill up and get back on the streets to cause the mayhem they are causing. We would like to hold businesses that are profiting off this mayhem accountable.” 

Hayes said it’s unsafe to chase ATVs through the streets, so officers generally try to catch drivers when they stop at a gas station. Hayes said ATVs are identified through undercover officers, the police surveillance network and residents who call 911. 

The proposed ordinance would not apply to people who fuel up ATVs that are attached to a trailer. Hayes said people who legally use ATVs on designated trails have nothing to fear. Police plan to partner with gas stations that use Project Green Light surveillance cameras to inform residents about the ordinance, if it passes. 

Benson’s ordinance was held in the Public Health and Safety Committee on Monday, so it could take several weeks before the full council weighs in.

Council Member Mary Waters said she was bothered by two ATVs she saw riding down Woodward Avenue recently, and expressed concern about underage Detroiters driving off-road vehicles on busy streets. Michigan law sets restrictions on children under 16 operating ATVs. Waters said she supports regulations, but is skeptical that gas stations will follow the ordinance. 

“I hope these gas stations mean what they say,” Waters said. 

Benson said Detroit teens think “it’s funny and cool to ride quad runners through the neighborhoods,” but it can be dangerous. He pointed to a 2017 incident where 15-year-old Damon Grimes was killed by a Michigan State Police trooper who shocked Grimes with a taser from his patrol car, causing the teen to crash into a parked truck. 

The trooper was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter. Grimes’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against MSP and was awarded a $12 million settlement. 

“We don’t want a repeat of that,” Benson said Monday. 

DPD seized 45 ATVs and dirt bikes last year from a lot in Benson’s council district. 

Benson’s proposal defines ATVs as a vehicle with three or more wheels designed for off-road use, with low-pressure tires, a seat straddled by the rider and is powered by a 50 cc to 1,000 cc engine. It defines an off-road vehicle as being capable of cross-country travel, including amphibious machines, vehicles with a multitrack, motorcycles and hovercrafts. 

Benson’s ordinance comes a few weeks after the Detroit Police Department offered a bounty for anyone who helps them confiscate illegal ATVs. The department offers $250 cash rewards for tips that result in the collection of an off-road vehicle. DPD posted two videos to social media in the last month showing the seizure of illegal ATVs. 

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1 Comment

  1. That is a pointless action. It is just as easy to fill a gas can in the trunk of a car. How about this… There are several key areas around Detroit where this behavior is rampant, Michigan Ave for one. Also they is an almost nightly occurance and always on Fri/Sat night. Bring back pursuit and if they are hurn, injured inbthe pursuit so be it! If they are engaged in this behavior then it would be no loss to society.

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