Sterling considering ordinance to allow nonhighway vehicles on city streets

This map marks in red the roads in Sterling on which nonhighway vehicles are prohibited, either because the speed limit is higher than 35mph or because the highway or roadway is under state jurisdiction.

STERLING – The City Council is working with Police Chief Alex Chavira to create an ordinance that would allow UTVs and other nonhighway vehicles to travel on city streets – as they do in Rock Falls and Dixon.

Currently, low-speed vehicles such electric or gas-powered bicycles and golf carts are allowed on Sterling roads that have speed limits of 30 mph or less, while power-driven personal mobility devices such as seated scooters and Segways are allowed almost anywhere pedestrians can go.

This new ordinance would allow side-by-side utility-task and all-terrain vehicles on city streets with speed limits of up to 35 mph.

Vehicles with straddle-type seats would be prohibited.

By state law, off-road vehicles may cross but are not allowed to travel on state roads such as routes 2/Lincolnway and 40/Locust Street, which are major thoroughfares in Sterling, or on roads with a speed limit higher than 35 mph.

Chavira, who is not opposed to allowing UTV traffic, does have a safety concern.

“Unfortunately, the way the city is laid out, my fear is it’s going to force folks into open, uncontrolled intersections in residential neighborhoods,” he told council members at a study session on the issue at Monday’s meeting.

The city could choose to prohibit UTV traffic on select roads as part of the new regulations.

Sterling likely would model its ordinance after the one the Rock Falls City Council passed on Nov. 2, 2022, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

Sixty-five plates were issued in the year since, with only one driver cited so far, Chavira said.

Rock Falls allows UTVs and other off-highway vehicles to be driven inside city limits once they are inspected by police and owners buy insurance and a city permit, which cost $100 the first year, and $50 a year for a renewal sticker.

Driving in parking lots and alleys is allowed, but they can’t be driven on First Avenue/state Route 40, U.S. Route 30 or McNeil Road, or on sidewalks, bike paths, public property or off-road in parks.

Lawn mowers and vehicles with a straddle seat and no steering wheel, such as dirt bikes and single-seat ATVs, are not allowed, and those that are allowed can be driven between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. only.

Drivers must be 18 or older with a valid driver’s license, and they and their passengers must wear seat belts.

A permitted vehicle:

• Must be motorized and designed to travel primarily off-highway.

• Must weigh 2,000 pounds or less if it has a gas engine, and 3,000 pounds or less if it is electric.

• Must be up to 64 inches wide with four or more nonhighway tires, a rearview mirror, red reflectors front and rear, a slow-moving vehicle emblem, a headlight visible for 500 feet, a red taillamp visible for 100 feet, brake lights and turn signals.

The Rock Falls ordinance is modeled after Dixon’s law, which was enacted 7 years ago.

There are 45 plates registered there, and 147 renewal stickers since have been issued, Chavira said.

The police there report no problems with the program, he said.

The next step likely will be to have a a draft ordinance prepared to discuss at a future council meeting, Shumard said in an email Tuesday.

In the meantime, city officials want to hear from the community.

Email Shumard at and Chavira at

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.