January 29, 2004
MININMUM AGE FOR DIRT BIKE RACING IN CONNECTICUT AND SURROUNDING STATES
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked what the minimum age allowed for dirt bike racing is under Connecticut law and if Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York have minimum age restrictions. You also wanted to know how Connecticut selected its minimum age.
Under Connecticut law, no one under the age of 13 can participate in motor cross racing. A minor child who is at least age 13 can participate with the written permission of his parents or legal guardian. The current minimum age of 13 with permission was adopted in 1985. It appears to have been a compromise reached after similar legislation establishing a minimum age of 10 was vetoed by the governor a year earlier. The minimum age of 10 in the vetoed legislation appears to have been settled upon by the bill's sponsor as a compromise with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that would allow the DMV to see how the lower age limit would work and met the legislative sponsor's desire to find a way to accommodate a group of Connecticut riders who he felt were disadvantaged in national competition by Connecticut's 16-year old limit. Prior to passage of the legislation, the statutes established no minimum age for motor cross racing, but the racing guidelines established by the motor vehicle commissioner, who has the statutory duty to oversee all motor vehicle racing events, required any participant to be at least age 16.
Rhode Island appears to have no minimum age requirements established by statute. In Massachusetts, no one under the age of 10 may operate an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), which can include dirt bikes. However, someone between age 10 and age 14 may operate with direct adult supervision. Someone under age 14 may only operate in a sanctioned race or other organized event that has been approved by the appropriate local authority. In New York, someone under age 10 may only operate an all-terrain vehicle (which includes dirt bikes) under adult supervision or, without adult supervision, on land owned or leased by a parent or guardian. Adult supervision is considered to be any person who is at least age 18 or a 16- or 17-year old who holds a state-issued safety course certificate. If someone is age 10 through age 15 they may also operate on any land where ATV use is permitted if they have passed an approved ATV safety course.
CONNECTICUT AGE LIMIT AND HOW IT WAS SET
Prior to 1985, Connecticut law established no minimum age limit for operating dirt bikes in established racing events. However, jurisdiction over all types of motor vehicle racing events and exhibitions resides with the motor vehicle commissioner. By law, such events may be held only after obtaining a DMV permit. The law also authorizes the commissioner to make regulations regarding the conditions under which these events may be conducted to include, among other things, the operator's age and physical condition (CGS § 14-164a). The commissioner established a requirement that all race participants be at least 16 years old based on the position that they should at least be old enough to hold a driver's license.
This was the rule when legislation was introduced in 1984 to prohibit anyone under age 16 to participate in motor cross racing but allow participants as young as age 10 if they have the written permission of their parents or legal guardian. The bill, HB 5659, was introduced by Representative Gelsi of the 58th District. The bill received a public hearing by the Transportation Committee on March 14. The only person to testify on the bill at the hearing was Clovis G. Goyette, Jr. who described himself as the parent of motor cross riders under age 16 and a paid consultant for New England Pro Racing, an Massachusetts organization based in Elmwood, Connecticut that ran motor cross racing events throughout new England. Goyette stated that there were more than 400 riders in Connecticut who held licenses from one or more recognized racing associations but who could not race in Connecticut because they were under age 16 but could and did race in most of the rest of the country. He also stated that the New England Mini Cycle Association staged 30 races throughout New England but none in Connecticut because the bulk of their riders were under age 16. The main thrust of his testimony was that these Connecticut riders under age 16 were at a disadvantage in seeking national recognition because they could not race in Connecticut (Transportation Committee Transcript pp. 612-16).
Rep Gelsi later commented that he submitted the bill on behalf of Goyette's organization and that the reason for putting the minimum age at 10 was based on his discussions with the DMV. He stated that DMV “wanted to at least see how it was going to work and my main concern was getting the age limit at least down to a point for the individuals that may be competing in the nationals and I didn't think too many of these youngsters under ten would be in that class.” (Transcript p. 617) Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Gelsi had established for the record by means of a question to the DMV representative testifying at the hearing that the DMV was taking no position on the bill and would “leave it up to the legislature… .” (p. 597)
During the House debate on HB 5659, Rep. Gelsi reiterated that he had sponsored the bill on behalf of two racing associations, the New England Mini Cycle Association and the New England Sports Committee, both of whom had riders who were competing nationally but who were under age 16. He stated that “If one rider happens to be short on points, and can't ride here, it could hurt him in his national effort to continue what they're doing.” (House Proceedings p. 2555, April 19, 1984). The House passed the bill with one amendment.
During Senate debate, Senator Dibella of the 1st District stated “Connecticut is one of the very few states in the country that does not allow children under sixteen years old to participate. This legislation would enable the individuals to participate.” (Senate Proceedings, p. 2095, April 26, 1984).
The Senate passed the bill as amended by the House on April 26, 1984. However, the governor subsequently vetoed the legislation (PA 84-196). In his veto message, Governor O'Neill stated, “Racing of motor vehicles is an inherently dangerous activity which jeopardizes the safety of both participants and spectators. Therefore, I believe that it should be carried out only by mature, and skillful persons who are old enough to comprehend the dangers which this endeavor presents to themselves. In my opinion, I do not believe that a ten year old has this maturity.”
The legislature sustained the governor's veto on June 25, 1984.
The legislature reconsidered this legislation the following year in the form of HB 7269. The Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the bill on March 4, 1985, but received no testimony on it. During the House debate, Rep. Wilbur of the 133rd District stated, “this is the same bill substantially, (as the one the governor previously vetoed) except that the age is increased with parental permission to thirteen.” (House Proceedings p. 2638, April 17, 1985). Rep. Gelsi made comments similar to those he had made the prior year. In addition, in response to a question from Rep. Farr asking why we needed a law when the commissioner had the authority to allow people of this age to participate, Rep. Gelsi responded, “I met with Commissioner Muzio before I put the first bill in last year, and the commissioners before him have all taken the same position, that anyone riding in races in the State of Connecticut should have a motor vehicle license, and that's why the age was placed at the age of 16 in regulations. He did not oppose the bill. He said, if the legislature chooses to change the age, he will administer it. He was not on his own going to change it, and that is the reason for the bill.” (House Proceedings pp. 2641-42)
The Senate passed the bill with an amendment defining motor cross racing on May 1, 1985. The House rejected the amendment on May 9, 1985 and sent the bill back to the Senate, which adopted a different version of the amendment and sent the bill back to the House on May 14. The House passed the bill as amended on May 17, 1985 and the governor signed it on June 5, 1985.
The law governing snow vehicles and “recreational vehicles” (which includes dirt bikes) states that no one under age 14 may operate one unless directly supervised by an adult (M.G.L. 90B § 26). The law also authorizes the director of the law enforcement division of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law to make rules and regulations governing the use and operation of snow vehicles and recreation vehicles (M.G.L. 90B § 29).
Division regulations establish the following age-related restrictions (323 CMR 3.03).
● Someone who is age 12 or 13 may operate if directly supervised by someone age 18 or older.
● Someone who is age 10 or 11 may operate if directly supervised by someone who is at least age 18 and the vehicle is operated on land upon which the operator lives.
● Someone under age 14 may operate in a sanctioned race, rally, or organized event, which has been approved by the appropriate local authority.
● Someone under age 10 may not operate a recreation vehicle under any circumstances.
● No one under age 16 and one half may operate a recreation vehicle across a public way.
Direct supervision is considered as supervision by an adult that is at all times sufficiently close to the supervised person so as to supervise operation of the vehicle by communicating visually or orally with him, taking into account the vehicle noise and the fact that operators are required to wear protective headgear.
NEW YORK REQUIREMENTS
Dirt bikes appear to fall under New York's statutory definition of an all-terrain vehicle. The New York law allows someone who is age 10 through age 15 to operate an all-terrain vehicle if he is (1) under adult supervision, (2) without adult supervision on land owned or leased by a parent or guardian, or (3) on land where ATV use is permitted, without adult supervision, if the rider has completed a DMV-approved ATV safety training course. Someone under age 10 may operate an ATV only under adult supervision or, without adult supervision, on land his parent or guardian owns or leases. Adult supervision means to be accompanied by someone who is at least age 18, or a 16- or 17-year old who has completed an approved safety course (Vehicle and Traffic, Art. 48-C, § 2410).
Special events such as races are governed by regulations of the motor vehicle commissioner. These regulations determine the events subject to permits and specify the equipment and facilities necessary for safe operation and for the safety of operators, participants, and observers. When a special event is proposed, the organizer must file an application with the appropriate local governmental agencies at least 30 days beforehand. The motor vehicle commissioner must receive a copy of all applications. No permit is required for a closed-circuit special event held entirely on private property, but the appropriate governmental agencies must be notified of the event at least 30 days beforehand (Vehicle and Traffic, Art. 48-C, § 2408).