© Brad Sauter | Dreamstime.com
Roaring motors, sticky mud, and challenging trails are but a few of the thrills involved in the exciting world of all-terrain vehicles or ATVs. While fun, accidents happen. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data indicates that children under age 16 account for nearly 40 percent of all ATV-related injuries and fatalities annually. In an effort to reduce accidents, we consulted the ATV Safety Institute and Dr. Jeff Sawyer, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Campbell Clinic for these safety guidelines.
Is your child ready?
The first step in ATV safety is making certain children are both physically and emotionally prepared for the demands of ATV use.
Questions to consider are:
• Can he/she ride a bicycle well, judge speeds and distances accurately, and react wisely with proper hand, foot, and body movements in various situations?
• Does he willingly follow safety rules?
• Is he safety-conscious when riding a bike or skateboard?
• Is he aware of the potential for serious injury with reckless behavior?
Right size, right age
Children under age 16 driving adult-sized ATVs account for nearly 90 percent of all ATV child-related injuries with rollovers being one of the most common causes. Sawyer warns parents that because of the weight and size of ATVs, young children do not have the strength and/or weight to make necessary corrections once an ATV begins to roll over.
To ensure your child is the proper age & size for a specific ATV:
ALWAYS heed the manufacturer’s Minimum Age Recommendation Warning Label, usually located on or near the gas tank. ATV sizes range from battery operated ‘toy’ ATVs for ages 3 to adult, usually indicated by a “age 16+” warning label.
To be big enough for the selected ATV, your child must be able to stand up on the footrests and grasp the handgrips with at least 3 inches of clearance between the seat and the seat of the child’s pants. This allows the rider to stand up for balance and comfort, and shift the body to maintain control of the vehicle.
Make sure all controls can be comfortably reached and worked from all riding positions, including the throttle and brake levers while holding onto the handgrips.
The child must be able to turn handlebars all the way to the right and left without struggling.
Select the right gear
The most significant piece of protective gear a rider must always don is a properly fitted Department of Transportation (DOT) and/or Snell Memorial Foundation compliant motorcycle helmet. Sawyer says only 20 to 30 percent of children injured in ATV accidents were wearing helmets. “We see several fatalities every year at Le Bonheur. The majority of fatal injuries are head injuries, which occur in children without helmets.”
LeAnn Baker, mother of two, recalls how a helmet saved her brother’s life. “He hit a Jeep head-on and was thrown down a hill covered in large rocks. Everywhere his head hit a rock, you could see helmet paint.” To acquire a proper fit, helmets should be snug (not tight) and properly fastened.
Train yourself and your child
To teach your child ATV safety, know the rules yourself. Research local and state laws and understand ASI’s Golden Rules. Read the owner’s manual to learn the location and operation of all controls, handling characteristics, and maintenance requirements. To master proper riding techniques, consider a formal riding class, such as ASI’s ATV Rider Course (available nationwide).ASI also offers parents suggestions for teaching riding techniques to youngsters in a free downloadable booklet titled Parents, Youngsters, and All-Terrain Vehicles at atvsafety.org.
You hold the key
The CPSC states not wearing a helmet, riding on public roads, carrying passengers on single passenger ATVs, riding the wrong size ATV, lack of supervision, and riding with no formal training are responsible for 92 percent of all ATV-related fatalities. With children under 16 accounting for nearly 40 percent of fatalities, parental supervision AT ALL TIMES is a must. “Adult supervision has been shown in multiple situations to decrease injury rate and ATVs are no different,” advises Sawyer. If unsafe riding behavior is noted, take the key until the child is mature/strong enough to ride responsibly. Or, as LeAnn’s husband, Richard, tells parents “Our kids know the four-wheelers will be sold if they don’t follow our rules.”
Learn more about ATV safety and local training at atvsafety.org • (800) 887-2887