All-terrain vehicles, better known as ATVs, were first used back in the 1980s as work vehicles in agriculture and forestry, valuable because of their ability to maneuver in difficult environments.
Over the past three decades, however, ATVs have become a popular recreational item for the general public. More than 10 million ATVs are in use today; sadly for some, this pastime has proved deadly due to a lack of safety precautions.
Known Hazards of ATVs
The first thing people need to understand is that ATVs are considered vehicles and not toys. Whether it’s a three-wheel or four-wheel ATV, these vehicles are equipped with low-pressure tires, a straddle seat, a handlebar for steering, and hand controls for braking and acceleration. The most common cause of ATV accidents is flipping or rolling over, which can throw a rider off the ATV or pin someone under the vehicle. ATVs are inherently unstable, so speeding or making quick, erratic turns can easily cause them to flip over.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notes that from 2006 to 2012, nearly 5,000 people died from injuries sustained in ATV crashes. Preliminary figures indicate that from 2013 to 2015 there were another 1,468 ATV-related deaths.
In Colorado, CPSC records from 1982 to 2015 show that 209 people died as a result of ATV accidents. Texas had the highest number of deaths during the same period with 780 reported fatalities.
And then there are the injuries associated with ATV accidents. It was estimated in 2015 that 97,200 people were injured in all-terrain vehicle accidents. As noted a few years ago by Inez Tenenbaum, who served as chairman of the CPSC during the Obama administration:
“ATVs are the fifth-deadliest product that we oversee. Every year 700 people die, and 136,000 go to the emergency room because of ATV-related injuries.”
Golden Rules of ATV Safety
According to Northwest Colorado Health in Steamboat Springs, there are “golden rules” to operating an ATV safely:
- Never drive ATVs on paved roads; they are not built to be used on a regular road surface.
- Ride only on designated trails or offroads and do not speed.
- Always wear a helmet and other protective gear such as eye protection, boots, gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt.
- Children under the age of 16 should not ride an ATV built for an adult.
- Do not allow a second passenger to ride on an ATV — they are built for only one rider at a time.
To ensure even more safety, much like the drivers of motorcycles, ATV drivers are also encouraged to take a hands-on safety driving course before getting behind the wheel. Colorado State University is currently working on a training program for safe use of an ATV, or you can join a course provided by the ATV Safety Institute.