Craig Medred of the Anchorage Daily News Outdoor Department wrote a long and confusing satire (2-17-02) about my bill to eliminate the need for a driver's license to operate a snowmachine. Like many a satire, Medred had to resort to gross exaggeration and changing the entire venue to make his point.
I wish to set the record straight with facts and evidence. First, Medred mentioned snowmachines traveling at 100 mph and later another speeding at 120. Very few snowmachines go this fast. To do so, you'd have to have a long, straight, flat surface such as a river. The fact is, most snowmachines go 30 mph or less. Besides, not only is this part of his satire an exaggeration, it has nothing to do with the legislation.
Secondly, the main venue I'm referring to is Bush Alaska. For years, snowmachines have been their primary means of winter transportation where roads are not available. This is where nearly everyone uses a snowmachine...but not on the Glenn Highway! It's already illegal to drive a snowmachine on a state road, much less a major highway! So all of Medred's exaggeration amount to nothing.
I'm talking common sense. Most Alaskans were surprised to learn it was against the law to drive a snowmachine without a driver's license. That's because they're basically off-road devices that don't mix with cars and trucks, and thus shouldn't require a standard motor vehicle driver's license.
What I wish to accomplish with my bill is to bring legality around to where most people already thought it was. Driver's licenses are for motor vehicles on public highways, not for off-road use.
This is where I am at one with people of the Bush. Suddenly, after years of watching kids drive around villages, will public safety officers now have to start enforcing a non-common sense law? No way. We do not need to involve law enforcement where it did not intervene before and where many locals don't think it's needed now, just because someone later discovered it was a dead letter law!
No. A dead letter law should be allowed to stay dead. It should be officially abolished as unneeded. In simpler words, "why fix something when it ain't broke"?
Mr. Medred is right about one aspect of this debate. That is, people should be instructed in how to drive a snowmachine safely. But the real question is by whom? Why go to the extreme? Why must government be involved? What happened to parental instruction? How about snowmachine dealers or associations who offer safety training?
To ape Medred, do we now need to have the State command us to have an eating license? Should the State come into our homes and teach our kids to walk? How about the State teaching us to go to bed at a decent hour? That would be after the State Commissioner on Tooth Brushing leaves the house. And best of all, a State Regulator on Outdoors Newspaper Commentators who write like lawyers without a factual case?
For years, snowmachines have proven useful and fun, and we have treated them as off-road, no-license-needed devices. Now someone thinks we ought to have laws enforced for no perceived need? Busybody laws are not for Alaska. We have better things to do.
Vic Kohring is a 4th term Republican who was first elected to the Alaska Legislature in 1994. He represents Wasilla and Peters Creek and is Chairman of the House Transportation Committee.