Being A Bad Neighbor Is Not Ok (because you are having fun doing it)

Many of you know I live in a very rural area of Vermont. The town I live in has a population of about 1200 residents. Life is simple where I live and in many ways, we are a bit of a time warp here. The village I live in has about a dozen houses, a church, a general store, and a post office. There is a state highway that travels through the middle of our village, and if it were not for the occasional car or logging truck, you would not know that this is the 21st century. This is a good place to raise a family and enjoy life on a small scale.

But, sometimes the 21st century intrudes in our lives here, and sometimes, the intrusion is not a happy one. I might be about to launch into a discussion of the coronavirus, but I will get to that later. I am going to talk about ATVs or all terrain vehicles.

ATVs, if you are not familiar with these little off road vehicles, are designed and intended for trail riding in off-road environments. The can go through just about anything including all kinds of mud, and even beaver ponds. They are fun to ride and I do not deny that, but they are also noisy, and can go quite fast. Think of an off-road hot rod type of vehicle. People do get hurt on them, but that is usually when the riders are using the vehicle in an unsafe manner, like what kids and big kids might be apt to do.

There is a social aspect to ATV riding. The riders often form large groups, I will call them packs, and they ride together, often stopping from time to time to socialize, and maybe drink alcohol. I say maybe because it is not a requirement, but it does happen. We are all adults here and we know what life is.

Most of the towns surrounding my town have banned the ATVs because of the public nuisance and frequent property damage that occurs with the use of these vehicles. They also are often ridden in an unsafe fashion. The ATV can go quite fast – think in speeds in excess of 60 mph on some of them. They are an open vehicle without much structure except for wheels, an engine, and a frame. I think of them as miniature hot rods, and they really are miniature hot rods, and the riders operate the ATVs like they are hot rods.

So, to get back to my town of Topsham, Vermont. My town has allowed the use of ATVs on our roads as well as designated trails. Last weekend was a big ATV riding weekend. Most of the other towns that surround my town have banned these vehicles so we have become the Mecca for ATVs. All day Saturday until after 11:00 pm packs, sometimes more than 30 ATVs in a pack, pass right in front of my house as they come into the village. The town road these ATVs are using joins on to a state highway in front of my house in the village of West Topsham. The destination for the ATVs passing in front of my house is the store in the village where they can get more beer, gas, and snacks.

Now, many of the operators of these vehicles are kids not old enough to have a Vermont Driver’s License, yet they are operating a high performance vehicle on the state highway and also town roads. We all know that it is the rare young pre-adolescent that possesses lots of good judgement and maturity. That just is not part of being a pre-adolescent or even an adolescent. So, we get young kids, no helmets mind you, drag racing down the town roads, two abreast, and never stopping before entering the state highway as they race for the store.

All of this is intolerable from the perspective of a home owner and a tax payer. By the fate of my location, I am forced to have a front row seat here. The noise is excessive. At times, my wife and I could not talk to each other in our own home. Forget watching tv, you could not hear it. The dust is just a constant cloud. I could not see the Post Office across from me. And, the bigger problem, is sooner or later, there is going to be a horrific accident right here. An ATV is no match for a loaded logging truck coming into our village on the state highway and meeting a kid on an ATV racing for the store.

My home is being ruined for us at the expense of a sport. This is what I mean about being a bad neighbor and having fun doing it. Ok, I have set the scene here, and now I am going to get into the rest of the story.

It is fine and more than quaint to live in a town that is a really a time warp and you might think you were visiting 1875 instead of 2020. But, the reality is this is 2020. The simple life that was possible in 1875(I use 1875 metaphorically here) is not what we get in 2020. The present is the present – it is what it is.

The bigger issue is sometimes, as a community or a society, we have to regulate behavior and provide for the common good of the community as well as the safety of its members. Turning a blind eye to this responsibility is in vogue now because we seem to exaggerate personal rights. Personal rights do not trump (no pun intended) the rights of society when the exercise of personal rights cause harm or take away the rights of society. Think about free speech, free speech is not a blank check. Free speech can be hate speech which is illegal. Free speech does not give me the right to enter a crowded theater and yell, “Fire” when there is no fire.

At some point, my Selectboard, the town governing body, has to accept that they will need to regulate the use of ATVs in our town. Right now, we are an ATV magnet as most of the neighboring towns have banned the ATVs from the town roads. The unfortunate piece here is my town prides itself on never regulating anything, and I mean anything. I have asked others, and none can ever remember our town writing an ordinance or town law for any purpose.

I write all of this because our country, in many respects, is going through a period of exalted personal rights, and often at the expense of the common good. Think about some of the shut downs and closures governors and mayors have tired to implement to protect us all in our fight against the coronavirus. Now, stop and think about the armed militias storming state capitols and state houses to intimidate and threaten state governors and legislatures.

I do not know where this is all going to end, but it is not 1875, 1775, or some other time in the past. It is now, 2020, and the world is under a pandemic that is threatening human life as we know it. This is one of those times when my personal rights do not trump the rights of society. Wear masks please, observe social distancing, be a good neighbor – let’s give us all a chance to live and enjoy life.

Sorry, for a long piece here – it seemed what is going on in my life is a microcosm of our world today.

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