The South Carolina House passed a bill Thursday that would ban children under the age of nine from driving All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and would put other restrictions in place for those under 16. The bill is known as “Chandler’s Law,” after a Swansea teen who died in a 2003 ATV accident.
Rep. Paul Agnew (D-Abbeville) helped lead the effort to get the legislation passed. He called it a safety issue.
We certainly want to do anything we can as lawmakers to prevent accidents with… youth, in particular. It has been such a problem because of the nature of the vehicles and the terrain that they operate over.
Agnew pointed to a Consumer Products Safety Commission report that estimated 450 South Carolinian children are injured each year in ATV accidents. He also said 65 minors under age 17 have died in accidents since 1999.
The new changes would require those under 16 years old to be accompanied by an adult in order to drive on public land. It would also ban children under age nine from operating an ATV at all and require those from 9-15 to pass a safety course. Any adolescent who passes the course would also have to wear a helmet along with eye protection.
Children ages seven to nine would be allowed to drive slower and smaller ATVs designed specifically for kids. Anyone who breaks the new law (or parents who knowingly allow their children to violate it) could be fined up to $200.
However, a late change to the bill drew some controversy. An amendment created an exception for children who use ATVs while farming or hunting on private land. Some legislators wanted the exemption, reasoning that the children would already be under adult supervision anyway.
Rep. Phillip Lowe (R-Florence) attacked the exceptions.
The exemptions were put in there so it could have a chance of passing. Because there’s no way people would have voted for it… they’re just trying to get enough people exempted from it to get it to pass.
Agnew said he also preferred not to have the exemptions, but explained enough of his colleagues wanted them to amend the bill. The final product passed by a 65-42 vote, with the opposition coming entirely from Republicans who feared it went too far.
Lowe opposed the bill, calling it another example of “nanny-state” mentality. He sarcastically wondered why legislators weren’t also regulating dirt bikes or horseback riding.
He said he did support putting restrictions in place for those who drive ATVs on public land, but felt parents should be responsible for what happens on their own private property.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Harry Ott (D-Calhoun). It was the third time the House has passed such legislation. A previous attempt was vetoed by former governor Mark Sanford, while another died in the Senate. Current governor Nikki Haley has not said whether or not she would sign the bill, but did vote in favor of a previous version while serving the Legislature in 2006.
The bill now heads to the Senate.