Safe Use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)

Mary Beth Bennett
WVU Extension Service
Berkeley County Extension Agent
July 1999


All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can be dangerous. An estimated 90,000 individuals annually are treated in hospital emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries. Nearly 10,000 individuals are hospitalized each year, and over 120 deaths are reported. Nearly half of the injuries and deaths occur among people 16 years of age and younger. Thirty-six West Virginians have died in ATV-related accidents. Fourty-six percent of these were 19 years of age or younger. Many people have been paralyzed or suffered internal injuries as a result of ATV-related accidents.

ATVs are not toys and are dangerous to operate. They handle differently from other vehicles and are less safe than automobiles in a variety of ways.

The all-terrain vehicle (ATV), also known as a three- or four-wheeler, was initially developed in Japan as a farm-to-town vehicle for use in isolated, mountainous areas. When the ATV first appeared in the United States in the 1970s, it was promoted and sold as a recreational vehicle designed to provide "thrills" for the rider.

By the mid-eighties the ATV was used both for recreational purposes and in agriculture. It was found to be an efficient and economical substitute for the pickup truck, the horse, the tractor, and even for walking in many operations. ATVs can now be found on all types of farms, ranches, groves, in the forest, in ornamental nurseries, on golf courses, and in recreational pursuits.

Eleven Commandments of ATV Safety

  1. Wear protective devices and protective clothing.
  2. Never ride double.
  3. Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  4. Do not drink alcoholic beverages or use drugs while riding.
  5. Always practice care for the environment.
  6. Know the machine before operating.
  7. Take a safety course before first time operation.
  8. Always directly supervise young riders.
  9. Always be courteous to others.
  10. Ask permission before riding on another's land.
  11. Obey laws and regulations.

Choosing the Right ATV

Age is the primary determinant of machine size according to manufacturers and by law.

  • A child under 12 years old should never drive an ATV with an engine size greater than 70 cc.
  • A youth under 16 years old should never drive an ATV with an engine size greater than 90 cc.

ATV Protective Gear

The nature of ATV riding demands that you wear protective clothing.

  • Helmet: Your helmet is the most important piece of protective gear for safe riding. It should fit snugly and should be securely fastened.
  • Goggles or face shield: You must be able to see clearly in order to ride safely.
  • Gloves: Gloves protect hands and provide a better grip. Gloves enhance control and handling of the ATV.
  • Boots: Boots should be leather high-top for best protection. Never ride bare footed.

Operating an ATV

  • Braking: Begin to slow down early; look straight ahead when you are stopping in a straight line. Look around the turn as you slow in a curve. Shift to a lower gear as you decelerate.
  • Turning: You must be able to coordinate speed and body position to maintain balance while turning. Slow before the turn and gently increase the throttle as you exit the turn. Support your weight on the outer footpeg and lean your upper body into the turn.
  • Hill Climbing: Some hills are too steep for your ATV, regardless of your abilities. Shift your weight forward by sliding up on the seat as you go uphill.
  • Hill Descending: To go downhill, shift your weight back; use the brake(s) to slow down as you descend the hill. Always descend in gear and never descend in neutral. Front brakes are very helpful in downhill braking.

Selecting an ATV for Work

Purchase only four-wheeled ATVs. Purchase a "workhorse" ATV, not a "thrill" type recreational model. The workhorse model is four-wheel drive and designed for power, traction, and stability.

Useful ATV Safety Information on the Web

Machinery Safety: ATVs (National Ag Safety Database)
ATV Safety: On Target, Off Road (National Ag Safety Database)
ATV Safety for Farm Work and Recreation (Iowa State University)
Safe Use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) on the Farm (National Ag Safety Database)
All-Terrain Vehicles (National Ag Safety Database)
Maine ATV Laws: Safe Riding Practices
ATV Safety Verification