ATVs Can Be Deadly For The Young And The Reckless

Mary Beth Bennett
WVU Extension Agent
Berkeley County
October 1999

Eleven Commandments of ATV Safety

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

Does someone in your family operate an all-terrain vehicle? Knowing -- and following -- basic safety rules can help your ATV operator to avoid becoming a tragic statistic.

Most folks know that ATVs can be dangerous. An estimated 90,000 individuals are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries. Nearly 120 deaths are reported. Nearly half of the injuries and deaths occur among children aged 16 and under.

In West Virginia, 36 people have died in ATV-related accidents. Forty-six percent of them were 19 years of age or younger. Many more have been paralyzed or suffered internal injuries in these accidents.

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

Initially developed in Japan, the all-terrain vehicle was marketed as a farm-to-town vehicle in isolated, mountainous areas. When three-wheel and four-wheel ATVs first appeared in the United States in the 1970s, they were promoted and sold as recreational vehicles designed to provide thrills for the rider.

By the mid 80s, 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 now can be found on all types of farms, rances, and groves, in the forest, in ornamental nurseries, and on the golf course and in recreation areas.

If you are choosing an ATV for work, consider only the four-wheeled models. Purchase a "workhorse" ATV, not a "thrill-type" recreational model. The workhorse model is four-wheeled and designed for power, traction and stability.

The age of the operator is the primary determinant of machine size, according to manufacturers and by law. A youth under 16 years old should never drive an ATV with an engine size greater than 90 cc. A child under 12 years old should never drive one with an engine greater than 70 cc.

The nature of ATV riding demands that you wear protective clothing. Your helmet is the most important piece of protective gear for safe riding. It should fit snugly and be securely fastened. Goggles or face shields should not block your vision. You must be able to see clearly in order to ride safely. Gloves protect your hands, provide a better grip, and help you control and handle the ATV. For best foot and leg protection choose leather high-top boots. Never ride barefotted.

Know how to safely brake, turn and maneuver on hills:

  • 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 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 gnetly increase the throttle as you exit the turn. Support your weight on the outer foot peg, and lean you body into the turn.
  • Climbing hills -- Shift your weight forward by sliding up on the seat as you go uphill. But keep in mind that some hills are too steep for your ATV, regardless of your abilities.
  • Descending hills -- To go downhill, shift your weight back; use the brake(s) to slow down as you descend the hill. Always descend in gear, never in neutral. Front brakes are very helpful in downhill braking.

Be sure that all atv opertors know and heed the Eleven Commandments of ATV Safety (above). For more ATV safety information, check the Web sites provided or contact your county's WVU Extension Service office.

Note that many of the same safety rules for equipment operation also apply to riding lawn mowers. An additional precaution is making sure that no one is nearby when you are operating a mower. Besides the danger of cutting someone who may get too close, a lawn mower can throw objects for low distances.

Accidents with riding lawn mowers occur far more frequently than many people want to admit. Adults should NOT let children ride with them when mowing because of the potential for harm. Adhere to the one seat one person on a tractor rule. The danger of riding mower accidents is compounded by the possibility that you can lose limbs if you fall off the tractor and are run over.

Remember, the life you save may be your own or that of your child!

ATV Safety on the Web

1. Machine Safety: ATVs ( The National Agricultural Safety Database)
2. ATV Safety: On Target, Off Road (The National Agricultural Safety Database)
3. ATV Safety for Farm Work and Recreation (Iowa State University)
4. Safe Use of ATVs on the Farm (University of Florida)
5. All-Terrain Vehicles (University of Missouri-Columbia Extension)
6. Maine ATV Laws, Safe Riding Practices
7. ATV Safety Verification