SALEM, Ohio — You are sitting in your living room and you hear the roar of an engine. You think to yourself, “Hmm, that motor sounds close.” You step out onto your porch to witness a couple of four wheelers tearing through your corn field. The crop is destroyed.
You recognize the people on the four wheelers and decide to call the local police, thinking you will be able to prosecute those involved — only to find out you are wrong! Under Ohio’s current law, you are limited in what you can do to those responsible.
That’s about to change July 1. And with that change comes stiffer penalties and more power by the courts to punish those responsible for damage.
Peggy Hall, director of the agricultural and resource law program for Ohio State University Extension, said the revision of the law will help landowners take action against those who enter the land without permission and damage it.
Hall said the law covers “all-purpose vehicles” or any self-propelled vehicle designed primarily for cross-country travel on land and water, or for more than one type of terrain and steered by wheels or caterpillar treads. This includes all-terrain vehicles, mini-bikes and trail bikes.
The law does not pertain to golf carts or utility vehicles, which are designed to transport cargo.
The first change in the law is stronger penalties for criminal trespassing with an all-purpose vehicle.
Criminal trespassing involves entering someone’s land without permission and is punishable up to a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail. Under the law revision, a court must double the fine if an all-purpose vehicle is used.
In addition, if a person is convicted of criminal trespassing using an all-purpose vehicle three times, serious consequences can be taken by the court.
“Three strikes and you are out,” Hall said. She added the court may impound the registration and license plates for the all-purpose vehicle for 60 days.
The new law also allows the court to impound the registration of an all-purpose vehicle for at least 60 days whenever a person is found guilty of violating any Ohio law with the all-purpose vehicle.
The new law will also have an important distinction from the current law. Any all-purpose vehicle — except those used for farm use — must be registered.
Under current Ohio law, most all-purpose vehicles required registration, unless you owned the land where you were riding. This exemption allowed many riders to avoid the registration process. That will change July 1.
The law change also increases the penalties for operating an unregistered all-purpose vehicle. If caught, the court can fine you between $50 and $100.
Another change that is sure to help catch those violating land laws is the requirement for license plates on all-purpose vehicles.
The state will issue license plates once the all-purpose vehicle is registered. However, this portion of the law will not go into effect until July 1, 2010.
Hall said the state is creating the license plate now. She said the hope is the requirement will help identify trespassers and those committing crop damage on farms.
Larry Gearhardt, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation senior director of local affairs, said the requirement for license plates will help in prosecutions.
“It gives us the ability to identify a four wheeler so they can pursue criminal trespassing and even criminal damaging charges,” Gearhardt said.
One item all-purpose vehicle owners will not like is the increase in registration fees, from $5 to $31.25 for a three-year registration.
The money will be deposited into the state treasury and will be used for law enforcement involving all-purpose vehicles and purchasing additional land to provide trails in the future.
Hall is hopeful the new laws will help curtail those entering others land and causing damage.
“How well it can be enforced is the question. But time will tell,” she said.