by Tamera Manzanares
All-terrain vehicles are popular, and it’s easy to see why. They are fun and functional – often used for ranch work, hunting, hauling and other purposes – and can be a great family activity. Like many motor vehicles, ATVs also are powerful and can be dangerous, especially for youth.
ATV-related deaths among riders younger than 16 accounted for 23 percent of total ATV-related fatalities between 1982 and 2013, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
ATVs can weigh more than 700 pounds and travel at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour. They handle differently than vehicles such as motorcycles and cars and can tip or roll over easily.
Proper instruction, practice and common sense safety rules can significantly reduce a person’s risk of injury or death. More than 92 percent of ATV-related fatalities result from warned-against behaviors, including youth riding adult-sized ATVs.
Keeping riders younger than 16 off of adult ATVs is key to reducing youth injuries and deaths. In 2007, the American National Standards Institute approved new ATV youth-model categories classifying ATVs for varying ages with different speed limitations and parental controls. ATV warning labels include the manufacturer’s minimum age recommendations. Youth models also have safety features including speed limiters and ignition keys.
Riders 16 and younger need to be supervised and should not operate a two-up (two person) vehicle. They should only ride as a passenger on a two-up ATV with an adult who knows how to drive the vehicle. The child must be able to reach the handholds and place their feet on the footrests while seated in the passenger’s seat.
These precautions are the first steps. Parents must also consider their child’s physical size, strength, coordination, visual perception, emotional maturity and ability to reason and make good decisions. Some children, regardless of their age, may not be ready to safely operate an ATV.
The ATV Safety Institute has many resources available to help riders of all ages better understand and operate their vehicles. Parents, Youngsters & All-Terrain Vehicles includes a Readiness Checklist and a step-by-step guide to help parents prepare their children to ride and teach them safe and proper riding techniques. This guide and other resources, including safety education games and videos, are available at www.atv-youth.org.
An ATV has many uses and can be ridden in many off-road conditions, but its capabilities depend on a person’s riding experience and ability. ATV educational resources not only help prevent accidents but can improve riding experience for all ages. The ATV Safety Institute provides free age-specific e-learning courses addressing basic safety principles. For more safety information, go to www.atvsafety.org.
The organization emphasizes the following “Golden Rules” for ATV use:
• Always wear a DOT (Department of Transportation)-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.
• Never ride on paved roads except to cross when done safely. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.
• Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV. There should be only one passenger on an ATV designed for two people.
• Ride an ATV appropriate for your age
• Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys.
• Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.