Safety remains top concern in Chillicothe committee meeting.

A proposal to legalize the use of UTVs on Chillicothe roads lingered during the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting Aug. 4 at City Hall.

The proposal was originally discussed during the City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting July 20, when Chillicothe resident Ray Pence presented a petition with 100 signatures to city officials calling for small, four-wheeled vehicles’ legalization on city streets.

However, the definition of the term “low-speed vehicle,” along with safety concerns stemming from the already legal use of golf carts on city streets, has city officials hesitant to move forward with the proposal.

Chillicothe City Attorney Michael Seghetti, citing the Illinois Vehicle Code, defined a low-speed vehicle as, “a four-wheeled vehicle with a maximum speed greater than 20 (mph) but less than 25 (mph).”

“If you want to allow low-speed vehicles — which I think is what we were talking about — then the question is, how are you going to enforce that?” Seghetti said.

Chillicothe Police Chief Scott Mettille said the consideration of allowing low-speed vehicles goes far beyond allowing UTVs to operate on roads within city limits, saying the city’s definition of low-speed vehicles could potentially include not only UTVs, but smaller ATVs as well.

While discussing the role of a steering wheel in the writing of a potential ordinance, Ward 4 Alderwoman Judy Cantwell raised the question of whether the city wanted to go that route.

“First off, before we start on the rules, do we want it or not?” Cantwell said. “I guess that’s the question before we start in on what rules we’re going to put in the book. Are we going to allow it or not?”

Cantwell said she was positive of at least two no votes on the City Council — herself included — saying she believed allowing UTVs would be “opening a Pandora’s box.”

“We’ve asked for the police chief’s recommendation, and his recommendation is no,” Cantwell said. “And once again, I think you’re opening up a Pandora’s box. Four-wheelers are going to come next.”

Ward 3 Alderman Mike Hughes, who was initially contacted by Pence regarding the petition, said he opposed the golf cart ordinance in its inception, but said because UTVs were safer than golf carts, he would vote in favor of an ordinance.

“You’re talking wider wheel base. You’re talking steering wheel, and they’re legal on county roads,” Hughes said. “Golf carts were never legal on country roads.”

Ward 4 Alderman Gary Sharp, regarding the enforcement of a maximum vehicle speed, said UTV manufacturer Polaris designs only one vehicle that accepts a governor — an apparatus that can be attached to an ATV or UTV to regulate the vehicle’s speed. Sharp added he is against the legalization of UTVs, as well as golf carts.

“My position on this — and I think there are others who think the same way — is I do not want these vehicles on the road, and I never have,” Sharp said. “Golf carts were here before I got here, so I accept golf carts. My own personal opinion: I think they’re dangerous, but I will vote for them because that’s what the people want.”

Sharp said if more residents came forward opposed to UTV legalization, he would change his mind. Mettille, on the other hand, said he heard many residents voice their opinions on the matter during the St. Jude Run on Aug. 1.

“There were numerous people on that run that are so against this that it’s not even funny,” Mettille said. “The problem is getting people to come down here and talk about it, voice their concerns and everything else. I understand what you’re saying, vote for the people, but you’re voting for what people? The people that voiced their opinion.”

One resident in attendance, Craig Hawksworth, said he was opposed to the city allowing UTVs on the road based on existing interactions between golf carts and other motorists.

“Some people drive, as you know, like rules don’t apply to them specifically,” Hawksworth said. “I’ve seen interactions between cars and golf carts I thought were going to result in damages or injury, and unsecured kids, unsecured pets, unsecured groceries, just ... driving around. ... I like steamrollers too, but I’m not going to get a petition of 100 people to run a steamroller around town.”

Mettille added the city did not have a copy of the petition on file, nor did it have any pertinent data on those who signed the petition.

“Do we even know how many of those people who signed the petition were Chillicothe residents? Do we even know how many people who signed the petition were of age? Do we even know how many were valid drivers?” Mettille said.

Hughes then explained he was in a “predicament,” telling the committee he had already promised Pence the matter would be taken to the City Council for a vote.

“I wanted to end this thing because it keeps coming up,” Hughes said. “I want them to see a council vote and see how it turns out.”

With a 2-1 motion in favor, the matter will be discussed at the City Council’s Aug. 24 meeting.