We accept that we need to take classes, pass the required tests and earn our licenses before we can drive a car or motorcycle on public roadways. We understand that accidents with these vehicles can be harmful, so we’re willing to take precautions. In short, we think about safety. Yet we don’t always give the same consideration to other types of vehicles.
Consider ATVs, for example. Because they’re fun rather than necessary, and because they travel along dirt paths and across the backcountry, ATVs are often treated much the same way as bicycles and other non-motorized toys. As the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) points out in an online infographic, an adult ATV weighs up to 600 pounds, and it can reach highway speeds of 65 miles per hour. That makes it a serious machine, with potentially serious consequences in the event of an accident.
According to the CPSC:
- Between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 7,000 ATV-related deaths.
- On average, 556 adults and 149 children die each year using ATVs.
- In more than half of the fatalities, users were riding on paved surfaces or unpaved roads, not careening across the backcountry.
- In 2011, more than 100,000 injuries related to ATV use were treated in emergency departments.
- The top 10 states for fatalities (1982-2007): California, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
What constitutes the riskiest behavior on ATVs? According to the underwriter website Property Casualty 360, which provides data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:
- No helmets: 87 percent of those involved in fatal ATV crashes were not wearing helmets. Only eight states require ATV operators to wear helmets on public roads.
- DWI: Almost half of operators involved in fatal crashes were drunk.
- Roads: Two-thirds of ATV crashes occur on roads, despite the fact that the machines are meant for off-road use.
Ensure a Positive ATV Experience Now & Down the Road
- Attend an ATV safety class. The ATV Safety Institute has a search tool to help find classes in your area. You also can review adult, teen and child safety courses here.
- Another important safety tip from the Institute: Wear appropriate safety gear. This includes a helmet certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation, over-the-ankle boots, goggles, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
- ATVs are designed for interactive riding — in other words, the driver must be able to shift his/her weight to deal with terrain and a variety of riding situations — and most are designed for just one rider. Do not ride with a passenger, or be a passenger, on an ATV.
- According to the CPSC, 33 percent of fatalities occur on paved roads. Avoid riding on them; as the ATV Safety Institute points out, ATVs 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.
- As the ATV Safety Institute notes, make sure children under the age of 16 are riding youth ATVs, not adult ATVs.
- Do not operate an ATV while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
To learn more about ATV safety, the CPSC has safety toolkits and links to additional resources available on its website.
More Off-Road Fun
Although these items aren’t strictly about safety, they are important tips for getting the most out of your ATV: First, if you’re headed off-road, make sure ATVs are allowed. You can do an online search for the area in which you’re planning to ride, and hopefully the park, national forest or township will have posted regulations; also, the online ATV education site ATVcourse.com has some good advice for finding the information you need. Consider finding a local off-highway vehicle (OHV) club, which will be an invaluable resource. The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council is a good place to start. Next, treat your ATV properly to make sure it has a long, happy life! Experienced club members will be a great resource for discussing the minutiae of caring for your machine, but in the meantime, ATV.com has some good advice:
- ATVs are meant to be used, but if you do need to put your machine into long-term storage, do it correctly. Improper storage can take years off your ATV’s life.
- Cover your ATV, or store it in a garage or outbuilding, when you’re not using it. UV damage can be significant.
- Beware the streams and mud holes, as water can cause a variety of problems. Make sure to check fluid levels and electrical components, and top off the grease inside sealed bearings. A marine-grade fuel stabilizer may be necessary for long-term storage, and be wary of any salt/brine conditions, which will be uber-corrosive.
- After-market modifications can put too much stress on an ATV’s drive-train components. Do your homework in advance to prevent breakdowns later on.
- To address possible contamination problems, follow recommended fluid change intervals, and check all fluids for water ingestion. Muddy, wet conditions can be a lot of fun on an ATV, but they’ll cause major mechanical problems down the road (figuratively speaking) if you don’t practice due diligence.
Overall, ATVing is an exciting, freeing recreational activity, and it’s a pursuit that family members of all ages can enjoy together. In some parts of the country, in fact, ATVs are the only way you’ll have access to vast tracts of beautiful, remote public land. Just make sure you’re well-trained and well-educated, and be prepared before you fire up that engine.
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