Local News

N.C. ATV, Identity Theft Rules Take Effect Dec. 1

Posted November 29, 2005 8:58 a.m. EST

— Young children will be barred from operating all-terrain vehicles and police will have stronger laws to go after suspected sexual predators on the Internet after more than 40 new laws take effect Thursday.

Other new laws increase criminal penalties for breaking into churches, stealing equipment at construction sites and exploiting the disabled or elderly. Identity theft prevention efforts will expand, while access to autopsy photos will be tightened.

North Carolina had been among a handful of states with essentially no laws for operating ATVs until lawmakers approved some in August. Thirty-six children have died in ATV accidents since 2000 in North Carolina, including 11 last year.

Starting Thursday, children less than 8 years old will be prohibited from operating the four-wheel vehicles, while those ages 8 to 11 will be restricted to driving models with engines of less than 70 cubic centimeters. Children from 12 to 15 can operate models with engines of no more than 90 cubic centimeters.

Jo Ann London, an ATV enthusiast from Henderson County, said she's pleased the new law will require riders born after Oct. 1, 1990, to take an accredited safety training course. Any ATV driver less than 16 also must be supervised by an adult andriders must wear helmets and face protection, such as goggles.

A parent could face a $200 fine for knowingly violating the rules.

"Adults need to be held responsible," said London, who has a 13-year-old grandson who rides a lower-powered ATV. "He's not rode enough to be on a (adult-sized) vehicle."

The age and safety restrictions don't apply to farmers and hunters. And ATVs of any size purchased before Aug. 15 can be operated by children.

"It is particularly important that parents are aware of the law this time of year, when they may be considering buying an ATV as a holiday present for their child," said Tom Vitaglione with the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, which sought the changes.

Another change taking effect this week makes it a felony to solicit sex from a person believed to be a minor, including police officers posing as children.

The previous law only made it a misdemeanor. The measure, sought by Attorney General Roy Cooper, is designed to encourage undercover officers to go after online sexual predators.

Cooper also praised a new law that will allow consumers to put a security freeze on their credit reports to prevent identity thieves from opening accounts and generating credit using stolen information.

The Identity Theft Protection Act requires businesses to notify customers when there's been a security breach and destroy or shred records that contain personal information before throwing them out. Businesses also can be sued for damages by a consumer if they break the law.

About 300,000 North Carolina residents have their identities stolen annually, with each victim on average spending $800 and 175 hours over a nearly two-year period to clean up the damage.

"We're fighting this fast-growing crime by giving people more ways to protect themselves from identity theft, and by making it harder for criminals to get their hands on your information in the first place," Cooper said in a statement.

A new felony also will be on the books for anyone who breaks into a house of worship to steal or commit another serious crime. In the past, break-ins at a church or synagogue could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. The law was passed following a series of church break-ins in eastern North Carolina counties.

Access to photos and recordings from official autopsy reports now also will be restricted largely only to court officers, police and the dead person's family. A media outlet or member of the public could ask a court clerk and ultimately a judge to get a copy. Florida approved a similar law after the death of Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500.