Getting illegal vehicles like ATVs and dirt bikes off the streets has become a priority across the state, especially after several serious crashes last year in Rochester.

In Albany, a new program is aimed at preventing the bikes from getting there in the first place.

On Wednesdays after school, middle schooler Zavier Smith gears up with his helmet, goggles and gloves, and gets on a mini bike at the City of Albany's Department of General Services.

“It’s fun because we do so much stuff,” said Smith. “We go on these trails. We're getting better at it as I come. Every day, I get better at it. It's important to be safe because you never know what could happen."

What You Need To Know

  • Reducing the use of illegal vehicles on streets has become a priority across the state

  • One program is aimed at preventing the bikes from getting there in the first place

  • NYPUM is geared toward teaching young people how and where to responsibly ride

Safety is at the crux of the National Youth Project Using Minibikes, or NYPUM. In Albany, NYPUM is led by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office which has partnerships with local schools and youth organizations.

Smith is part of the class for the kids at the Delaware Avenue Boys & Girls Club. The goal is to teach young people how and where to responsibly ride mini bikes.

"It's all about prevention, right?” said David Gordon, Delaware Avenue Boys & Girls Club director. “If you teach this current generation what to do and how to do, then they'll be more educated to be less risky."

In March, Albany police and Mayor Kathy Sheehan warned of the dangers and encouraged residents to provide tips as it pertains to individuals recklessly operating dirt bikes and ATVs.

In Rochester, a 9-year-old boy and 21-year-old man were killed in separate crashes in 2021. The city responded with a targeted effort to crack down on illegal vehicles.

In the last month, the Rochester Police Department towed or seized almost 40 vehicles, including 21 dirt bikes and 12 ATVs. Officers wrote 62 traffic tickets.

Efforts by police to safely get them off the streets are working, but the NYPUM program is focused on making sure riders know not to ride on the streets in the first place.

"It's a program that really invests in our young people. It’s not just something fun to do,” said David Graham, Albany County District Attorney's Community Outreach Center manager. “The dirt bikes are just kind of the cool element to it."

NYPUM also touts benefits like improved attendance, grades and behavior.

"It works,” said Graham. “You know, you give the kids something they enjoy doing. It’s free of cost. What you need to do in the classroom, at home and you earn time to ride."

For Smith, it’s been a positive activity that's served as a confidence boost.

"I know what I'm doing on the dirt bikes,” said Smith. “I know how to bump up the gears and start up the engine.”

At the end of the summer program, the young riders get to participate in a rodeo to show off what they've learned. Because of it’s success, Graham said they’ll soon announce more plans for the program.