Monday, February 14, 2011

Street Legal - The Final Word On The Matter

Over two years ago now, we visited this part of Arizona for the first time. We were taking the Honda Rincon “GPScape” ATV on its maiden voyage to the desert southwest. Arizona has some of the most liberal riding laws in the nation and we were bound and determined to be able to take full advantage of them. But that would require understanding the laws and abiding by them, as there are significant fines and penalties for not being in compliance. This seems more than fair. They are giving riders a lot of leeway, so playing by the rules is surely a gesture of good faith in return.

But what were the rules, exactly? Our first stop was the Red Rock area near Sedona and because they have lots of tourist information, we stopped at the Chamber of Commerce information Center down town. Surely they would know the ins and outs of the law and be able to guide tourists on how to play by the rules. And sure enough, they had a nice little three-fold pamphlet that purported to say what could, could not, and must and must not be done. But even that pamphlet had a few discrepancies, so we sauntered on up to the desk to ask our questions.

Can a “bike” (my reference to an ATV - All Terrain Vehicle-a gas powered toy that will take you just about anywhere you tell it to…) that is registered in another state be driven here?

Is a permit required for use in Arizona, especially if you are not a resident here?

What items constitute “street legal”- the ability to configure the bike so as to be legal and permissible to ride on paved or “improved” roadways in the state of Arizona?

There were some other questions as well, but this will get us started. The nice lady at the counter at that point in time was not sure she knew the answers, but she informed that “the guy who will surely know will be back from lunch any minute now.” When he returned from lunch, he ventured his opinions, but he too was not “sure” and called in another “ranger” to the conference…. We left the tourist bureau with answers but they were a mixed bag and we didn’t really have a lot more confidence that we understood things much better than when we walked through the door.

From there, we traveled to a number of other venues in search of truth, justice, and the American way….make that the Arizona way. We talked to the police. We talked to government offices. We talked to outfitters and guides. And over and over we got the same thing: We think you can do this. We think you can do that. But we’re really not sure and if we are wrong and the officer who pulls you over for a check does not agree with us- well- that could be bad.

Ultimately, everyone begged off on the definitive answers we sought, but decided that if we traveled to the Department of Motor Vehicles in another Town, surely we could get the appropriate answers. Well, I’m not one to challenge authority without just cause, so off we went. Once at the office of the DMV, we took a number and “parked it.” When our number was called some time later- you guessed it- the lady behind the counter was not sure of the answer to our questions. But she allowed that if we had a bit more time, we could get an appointment with someone in the inner office that was in charge of “statutes” and would most certainly be able to answer all our questions. And sure enough, that individual spoke with great clarity and authority, and even went so far as to print out a few of the statutes for us to carry on board in the event of some problem or question as to whether or not someone whose bike was registered out of state could ride in the desert, ride on the roads, even ride into town without fear of doing something wrong.

We felt much better. We felt legitimate. We felt legal. We felt like any challenge could be won should it come to that.

We rode. We rode in the desert. We rode around town. We even rode into the Pilot fuel stop, parked our seemingly midget bike beside the 18 wheelers and fueled up right alongside them. We were proud. This was cool! And there aren’t many, if any, other places where you can do this.

But were we street legal? I mean really?

Now fast forward to today. Well, not actually today, but this most recent visit to Arizona. Yuma. Yes we rode there. We rode in the desert. We rode around town. We even rode into town and fueled up beside the big rigs yet again. Then on to Brenda. We rode in the desert. We rode in the town, down the highway, across the street, where-ever it felt right to be riding…we rode. Until one night with a gathering of friends, one of the guys with a lot more Arizona experience than we have looked at us and said: “You know, you’re not street legal!”

What? Huh? How can this be? We have been to the tourist bureau and they told us what to do. We have been to the police and they told us what to do. We have been to the bureaucrats who make their living telling people what they can and can’t do…and they told us what to do. But more importantly, we have had a sitting with the statue person at the DMV who told us, complete with written documentation: You are legal in Florida for how Florida allows you to ride (which by the way is NOT on the street- ever) so you can ride in Arizona for 30 days the way Arizona allows you to ride. All you need to do is have brake lights, headlights, an 8ft “whip” with a signal flag, use hand turn signals…..You are good to go. And so we went.

But this guy was saying we needed a sticker, a new title, a new registration, a license plate with a light over it, and on and on.

Well, the mere thought that we were NOT street legal sent shivers down the spine. Better check on all of this, before our luck wears off if in fact this new reality is the truth. The very idea of the reported 700 dollar fine? Not good. So back to the police we went. This time to the Quartzsite Police, where the desk officer agreed with what we had been told. We needed to do pretty much just as he had said….

So back to the DMV we went- this time in Parker. Again the nice lady behind the desk knew just what we needed and promptly set about taking care of the paperwork that would do the job. We felt good that finally things would be as they should be. Or would they? The police officer back in town had assured us this would NOT require giving up our Florida registration and insurance. But as we signed the last of the Arizona documents, the clerk asked us to “surrender your Florida registration documents and change your insurance to Arizona.”

But, but, but, the nice police in Quartzsite assured us we did not need to do that!

“Yea, they don’t know about that part of it down there. You must. And besides,” said she, “just call the insurance company and they will gladly switch the insurance from Florida to Arizona. No problem!”

OH NO THEY WON’T! The insurance company it seemed had other ideas about how to handle that. First cancel the old policy and send us a letter that reads in part- “you no longer have insurance with us….” But didn’t we just take out a new policy with you for Arizona. Yes, but first we must cancel the old one before the new one take effect. What a good idea.

Piles of paperwork later, and a bunch of (two days to be exact) running around, the title, the registration, the insurance, the license plate with a light over it, the red flag, the rear view mirrors, the tail lights, the head lamps with high and low beams, the electric horn, the brake that can be operated by hand or foot, the red reflectors, the muffler in good working condition, the seat and footrest for the operator, the fuel tank cap AND the OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) sticker were all sanctioned and done up as they were supposed to be.

Ride tall, ride proud, be at ease. You are Street Legal now!

I think....

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