ATV Safety: Off-Roading with the Whole Family

We love to share our passions with our children. We want to engage in family pastimes, so we pursue outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, surfing and snorkeling. Sometimes our favorite activities involve motorized vehicles, and while we wouldn’t necessarily put our young children behind the wheel of a powerboat, we might consider putting them behind the wheel of an all-terrain vehicle.

Sobering Statistics About Kids & ATVs

Why not? ATVing is a great family activity, right? It may be fun, but there are some sobering statistics associated with this sport. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, almost 30 percent of accidents involve kids under 16. And the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that the number of annual ATV-related injuries has increased from 10,100 in 1982 to more than 150,000 in 2007; the AAOS notes that “children account for a disturbing proportion” of those accidents. Just think: Roughly 15 percent of ATV riders are children, yet they comprise nearly 30 percent of injuries. Why is that? The AAOS observes that today’s ATVs, which can weigh weigh between 160 and 200 pounds and pack 50 horsepower, are significantly larger, faster and more powerful than they were years ago. Some have top speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. These are clearly not toys.

ATVs For Youths

If you love ATVs, and you want to share this activity and your love of the outdoors with your children, you need to keep a few things in mind. The first: never allow a child under the age of 16 to ride an adult ATV, warns the CPSC. If you want to introduce your child or young teen to off-road riding, youth ATVs are available. They’re smaller, less powerful versions of utility/sport ATVs. Most models feature a tether strap that can be attached to your child’s clothing; if the child falls off, the engine will stop running. Some even have remote control units that parents can use to stop the engine, just in case. Another benefit: youth ATVs are significantly less expensive than their adult counterparts. provides product reviews of several youth ATVs.

What Else Can Parents Do?

The CPSC and the ATV Safety Institute provide the following additional tips, which are critical for ensuring an extra measure of safety:

  • Make sure that your child always wears a helmet and other protective gear, including eye protection, over-the-ankle boots, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Helmets certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation are strongly recommended.
  • Do not allow your child to drive an ATV with a passenger or ride as a passenger. Most machines are not designed for passengers, and they require the driver to shift his/her weight to deal with terrain and a variety of riding situations.
  • Do not drive ATVs on paved roads. The machines are difficult to control on pavement due to their handling and low-pressure tires; they’re susceptible to roll-overs. Plus, collisions with street-legal vehicles are a significant risk, so use caution when crossing paved roads.
  • Make sure teens understand that they are never to drive ATVs while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

One Last Thing, Kids: Get an ATV Education

And finally: Enroll your child or young teen in a hands-on ATV safety course. The ATV Safety Institute offers a teen course that is similar to an adult course, minus the supervisor’s model. If you select a state-specific course, information about state laws and regulations will be provided during the course. The ATV Safety Institute also has a children’s course that is designed for youth ages 6 to 11. It’s an activity-based course that doesn’t include the state-specific information required to complete the state certification quiz. If you’d like your child to receive this certification, review the teen or adult course with your child, take the practice quiz and complete the full State Certification Quiz with him or her. Also, check out the Oklahoma State 4-H Program’s youth development website dedicated to ATV safety. This site is a useful portal, with games, videos, quizzes, news items and a special section filled with ATV-safety resources and documents, including ATV requirements and guidelines by state, operator tips and helpful practices, ATV safety training courses, the ATV Safety Institute’s “Try Before You Buy” program and the “golden rules.”

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