Jan 4, 2024 - News

Philly's off-roading seizures plummet

Illustration of a dirt bike with handcuffs in place of the wheels.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

The number of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs seized by Philadelphia Police dropped 58% over the last two years, per city data obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Off-roading is a consistent nuisance for city residents who have rallied for quieter streets. It's also among the "quality-of-life" issues that new Mayor Cherelle Parker directed Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel to prioritize as part of her public safety declaration.

Driving the news: The seizure of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs has steadily trended downward post-pandemic.

  • The police department seized more than 890 off-road vehicles in 2020 and 2021 but then just a combined 376 in 2022 and through the first 10 months of 2023, per police data.

Of note: That figure would've been lower had police not conducted a citywide operation in October that led to the confiscation of 23 dirt bikes and ATVs.

  • The operation came after a motorcyclist was captured on video destroying the back of a woman's vehicle in Center City and then pointing a gun at her.

How it works: The city's traffic laws allow police to issue fines and impound illegal dirt bikes and ATVs that are being stored publicly, even if they're not being ridden.

  • All seizures are stored at a city impound lot with violators given a hearing before the Office of Administrative Review, which decides whether the vehicles are returned to their owners.
  • Retained dirt bikes and ATVs are scrapped with the city receiving between 1 and 5 cents per pound, police spokesperson Cpl. Jasmine Reilly tells Axios.

What they're saying: Pandemic shutdowns likely contributed to a spike in seizures in 2020 and 2021, per the police.

  • But they consider those years "statistical outliers" and pointed out they mirror increases in other crimes seen in Philadelphia and nationally.
  • "You have to keep in mind how atypical crime in general was during those years," Reilly says.

The big picture: In addition to cracking down on off-roading, police dealt with a spate of illegal car meetups last summer, including one that turned deadly and pushed city lawmakers to pass a law increasing fines for drifting.

The bottom line: Police say fewer people are willing to risk having their off-road vehicles seized now that they're aware the department is focused on them.

  • Many who once parked their bikes and ATVs in public have taken to stowing them away in private garages, they say.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Philadelphia stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Philadelphia.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more