'Where can they go?' Dirt bike and ATV riders on city streets around Triangle raise safety concerns

DeJuan Hoggard Image
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Dirt bike and ATV riders on public streets draws complaints
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Durham and Chapel Hill Police announce recent dirt bike arrests in separate incidents.

Durham native Jamal Lewis is looking to change the narrative on dirt bike and ATV riding on public streets around the Triangle.

"I know this stuff is not gon' stop," Lewis told ABC11. "What I'm trying to get is for somewhere to ride."

Currently, Lewis and members of his Southern Soul ATV Club, ride on trails in and around the state. And while traveling to those trails, they use public streets to get there.

Sometimes members of his organization, and other street riders, do tricks in the street -- impeding traffic and posing as a risk to themselves and others.

"Outside looking in if you see us on the street and think that we're causing trouble, we're not doing anything but riding bikes," said Lewis. "I think about it like this. These boys could be out here causing all kinds of other trouble and hurting people. We not doing nothing but just riding."

Lewis' comments come soon after Durham and Chapel Hill Police announce recent dirt bike arrests in separate incidents.

"I would prefer them go where they need to go on a dirt road or a trail," said Elija Ortiz. "Because it's dangerous for their sake and other people on the street."

Meanwhile, Durham resident Stan Philip agreed there should be somewhere for these riders to go. However, he stopped short of suggesting where. "These folks need an outlet for using these recreational vehicles that are not going to violate any of the laws that are in place now. But I don't know that things ought to change in order to accommodate them," he said.

"Where can they go," Lewis asked. "They should make it obvious to these folks where they can go and where they can't go and how to get there safely."

Charges filed against ATV, dirt bike drivers in Chapel Hill

Philip is also concerned that some of the younger dirt bike and ATV riders may not have the proper licensure to operate a vehicle. "They don't even obey which lane of traffic is going in what direction. So they cross back and forth between north and south and that's just not safe. It's really reckless," Philip said.

Lewis said he would like to see an improvement in communication between city and county leaders to open up a dirt trail or area for his club and other riders to get off the street.

"Once upon a time a skateboard was a problem around this area," Lewis recalled. "Then they put money towards a skatepark and you don't see anymore skateboards on the street. These aren't a bad group of guys. They're just popping wheelies in the street."

In a statement, Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews said, "Despite the grossly inaccurate and unfair statements being made about our efforts to curb this type of lawless behavior, my officers have and will continue to attempt to dismantle and disrupt these groups. We have formed a multi-jurisdictional task force, which includes the Durham County District Attorney's office, that will focus solely on identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting individuals in our community that are more committed to being a part of the problem rather than the solution. It is disheartening that my officers and officers from other jurisdictions now have to divide efforts between addressing this behavior and addressing violent crime in our community."