ATVs are a Menace to Orange, But City Council is Cracking Down

Credit: A still from the documentary "12 O'clock Boys."

It’s summer in the city and Orange residents know what that means — off-road vehicles are terrorizing the streets again. It seems every resident has witnessed outlandish behavior from these dirtbike desperados.

Councilwoman–At–Large Adrienne Wooten remembers seeing someone drive an ATV down a sidewalk near Oakwood Avenue Elementary School. “He drove in between children as school was being dismissed,” Wooten said.

The city council unanimously passed an ordinance that will frustrate the ability of owners of ATVs and dirtbikes to store and fuel their vehicles.

This legislation was a few months in the making and Wooten, together with Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson, worked with the police department to draft the ordinance. Police can now issue tickets up to $3,000 to self-storage facilities for harboring off-road vehicles, as well as to gas-stations for dispensing fuel for the use of these vehicles. Off-roaders who violate these laws can have their vehicles seized and destroyed.

“We have people riding up Central Avenue and Freeway Drive on ATVs and dirtbikes, driving between your cars and coming head-on, playing chicken with you,” Wooten said. “Maybe they should get their gas somewhere else.”

What the legislation does is takes the responsibility away from police alone to catch drivers while on the road, which the city’s Police Chief Vincent Vitiello said is too dangerous both for the fleeing drivers and the police, who have in some reported cases been injured while pursuing an off-roader. New Jersey’s Attorney General Matthew Platkin, issued new guidance for police in May for dealing with this scourge that includes a controversial no-chase policy. Vitiello said he backs the policy.

“I’m not going have our men chase an ATV and kill an innocent person — it’s just not worth it to me,” Vitiello said. “I don’t want that on the department’s conscience or the individual officer’s conscience.”

This law comes on the heels of a social media trend called “bike swerving” where daredevils are playing chicken with oncoming traffic, turning away at the last minute. Council President Tency Eason claims to have witnessed this behavior on High Street.

“It’s scary when they’re coming toward you — because those guys live dangerously,” said Council President Tency Eason. “They could make you have a heart attack.”

Eason said she’s so fed-up with the problem that she intends to get copies of the new ordinance and “hand deliver them” to gas stations.

New York City passed similar legislation in 2021 but it hasn’t seemed to stop the swarms along the streets of Queens. 

“Drivers were left with no choice but to sit and watch the convoy of bikers on Rockaway Boulevard as they weaved in and out of traffic popping wheelies Friday evening,” ABC7 reported in March.

The 2013 documentary 12 O’Clock Boys explored the danger and allure of this inner-city subculture of ATV and dirtbike riding for young Black men in Baltimore and the headache it causes for local police to control them. The title comes from the attempt of drivers to achieve a completely vertical position — similar to the hands of the clock when at noon — while doing a wheelie. 

One of the people interviewed for the filmed argues that in a cities like Baltimore, where young people grow up seeing murder, drugs, and prostitution, dirtbike and ATV riding seems like “one of the first things you see that’s positive.” 

Three years after the film was realease, the 13-year-old protagonist Tyquan “Pug” Ford was injured by police while riding a dirtbike. At age 20, Ford was imprisoned for possessing a firearm and ammunition.

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