Feb. 18—Spots for Santa Maria’s off-highway vehicle safety workshops tend to fill up quickly because they are limited to eight participants, although the city is seeking to expand access with new state funding.

The Ride 3 program was launched using a $64,000 state grant in 2014 to teach area youth about safe all-terrain vehicle operations. The program later was opened up to adults, but access has been limited since the city only has eight ATVs, which are smaller in size, for students.

Now, city officials are pursuing another grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation to acquire four larger ATVs meant for adult riders, according to Dennis Smitherman, recreation services manager for the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

A required public meeting was held Wednesday to receive community input for the grant application, which is due on March 26.

“This grant is kind of different,” Smitherman said, adding it’s the city’s third time applying for the grant. “Our population is not so much the little guys anymore but teenagers and adults who are learning to ride safely.”

The state will determine the size of the grant, according to Smitherman, who said the money could be awarded later this year. The price for new ATVs range from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000 each.

Additionally, the department is also looking at the possibility of hiring more instructors who could teach more classes. Currently, there are only two, including City Ranger Casey Stone

“He’s really good with the kids and adults,” Smitherman said. “He really gets his point across about the safety and being respectful at the same time.”

When the program first started, classes were held up to six times each year, but the city reduced it to twice each year due to staffing shortages.

The courses are able to be held during the pandemic but needed to be modified to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines. The program now includes a two-and-a-half-hour online pre-instruction class, followed by two and a half hours of hands-on riding instruction.

Previously, courses were held at the Elks Unocal Event Center, although now they are offered at Los Flores Ranch Park. Vehicle off-roading is banned at the park, but a specially designed location is used by the city for the OHV course, according to Smitherman, who added the courses are highly popular.

Tuition was previously free, although many people would sign up but not show up, according to Smitherman. Now, the city charges a $5 fee to ensure people will attend.

The course is designed for someone who has never ridden an ATV and it teaches the basics: how to properly size the vehicle, where the brakes are located, etc. The final test puts all the skills together in an actual trail ride at low speeds, instead of “riding in circles” on a track, according to Stone.

When students graduate, they earn a certificate through the ATV Safety Institute.

The sign-up for the next Ride 3 class will be in March, with the city expected to make an announcement on its Facebook page at least two weeks in advance of registration.

The city offers the course because it’s part of the department’s general mission to provide safe recreational activities and also to prevent injuries or death at area off-roading locations, including the Oceano Dunes, according to Smitherman.

Between 2015 and 2017, California reported 62 ATV-related deaths, the third-highest number behind Kentucky, which had 63, and West Virginia, which had 97, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“OHVs are fun and it’s a great family activity, but it can be dangerous,” Smitherman said. “That’s why we are encouraging people to take the class before doing crazy stuff.”

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