If you or your child are looking into the latest All-Terrain Vehicle for your upcoming birthday purchase, you are probably considering many factors including the safety of the device. With many opinions and varying statistics out there, it is important to consider the facts and make a well-informed decision before bringing this device home.
Are ATVs dangerous? Overturns on ATVs are due to skidding, sudden turns, and jumps off elevated surfaces causing instability and flips. The dangers in ATV use are most commonly linked to inappropriate use behaviors and disregard of safety warnings- true of more than 80% of fatalities. Stay safe when riding by following ATV safety guidelines including age, gear, and terrain precautions.
In this article, we will look at why ATVs can be dangerous as well as how to stay safe when riding an ATV. With over 125,000 injuries and 700 fatalities per year, it is critical to follow the ATV safety guidelines and use precaution at all times. When used appropriately, ATVs can be a thrilling way to make fun-filled memories with your family and friends. Follow these guidelines to ensure positive memories and associations with the use of ATVs.
I don’t mean for this article to scare anyone away from riding. If done properly, ATV riding can be a safe and fun family activity.
Why are ATVs Dangerous?
Many are precautionary regarding the use of ATVs due to their perceived danger. Though some injuries and fatalities have been proven linked to the design and structural stability of the device, the majority are linked to inappropriate use. Most commonly, ATVs cause harm to individuals under the age of 16 -years-old who are unauthorized users.
With that in mind, there are a few key components that can make ATVs dangerous- especially for users who are not permitted to use the device in the first place or users who use them incorrectly. These include use at high speeds with an imbalance in weight distribution, unsound decision making while riding, and other inappropriate use.
Primarily, ATVs become dangerous when used at high speeds, because of their potential to flip, leading to the ATV crushing the rider.
With ATVs weighing between 300-600lbs, an overturned ATV can crush the rider if they are wedged underneath the device. This is what often leads to broken (smashed) limbs as well as (more rare, but still apparent) fatalities.
The associated adrenaline in young ATV users can cause a lack of judgment in sound decision making leading to use on dangerous terrain or other inappropriate areas. While the thrill of a flip can be mastered by some ATV professionals, inexperienced users who do not know how to safely attempt this risky feat can become injured or even killed.
Other inappropriate use behaviors (outside of using an ATV before reaching the age of 16+ years) include riding in areas of high traffic, taking sharp curves near steep cliffs, going above the speed limit (or speed recommendations), disregard for safety gear, and carrying an (unpermitted) passenger.
Here’s a good ATV safety video with some helpful tips and reasons why safety is so important.
ATV Safety Guidelines: How to Stay Safe When Riding
Since inappropriate use and disregard for ATV safety guidelines are the root causes for more than 80% of ATV-related fatalities and the majority of ATV accidents, it is appropriate to know and practice these safety guidelines when riding. Whether you or your loved one is the ATV rider, be sure to follow these warnings during each ride to ensure a safer opportunity for the thrill of an ATV experience.
Follow standard ATV operational warnings
When purchasing a new ATV, you will want to be sure to read the operational warnings for your selected device. This will include standard weight limits, basic terrain guidelines, driver instructions, and precautions to take while driving. These are critical but are often overlooked by many drivers.
Unfortunately, it is these operational warnings that, when disregarded, are the lead cause in injuries and fatalities associated with ATVs. For example, weight limitations are a serious consideration to take when driving an ATV. As these vehicles are already known for their weight imbalance and distribution difficulties (especially at high speeds or rough terrain), the weight guidelines are put in place to help safeguard the driver.
When someone who is too heavy or too lightweight attempts to drive an ATV, this can cause a disruption in the balance and cause the person to fall off more easily or to outweigh the measurements that create stability for the device. Either way, following this operational warning, among all others, can help to keep you safe when riding an ATV.
Avoid traffic hazards (and areas with traffic in general)
Now, while it is extremely rare to see anyone attempt to take their ATV on a highway, there are still other high-traffic areas that ATV riders may attempt to drive on. Due to the nature of the device, and especially the jarring juxtaposition of its speed compared to a standard automobile’s, driving an ATV in a high-traffic area is unsafe for all vehicles involved.
Consider what happens when a car drives much slower than other cars on the road. It is at a much greater risk of collision with other vehicles than those that are keeping with the flow of traffic. This is why there are speed minimums on some roads. It is unsafe for all involved.
The same principle applies to ATV drivers. Not only do the other cars present dangers in themselves to an unguarded ATV, but the area is also unsafe and unfit for these devices to be operated. Instead, choose to drive an ATV in an area specifically designated for this type of vehicle, or find public open land that you can drive it on safely. This can prevent a serious accident that could otherwise result in an injury or fatality while operating your ATV.
Avoid riding near sharp curves, steep cliffs, and areas with narrow guard rails
This guideline might seem a bit more obvious to experienced ATV users, but for those who have never ridden on (or driven) an ATV, this can seem overly precautious. However, the safety guideline for riding near sharp curves, steep cliffs, and areas with narrow guard rails stand firm.
Most of the time, you will be driving at a higher speed when you are on narrower, windier roads. Especially if you know the route, you can more easily gauge the pace in which you need to follow to reach your destination safely. However, these paths can yield significantly higher dangers that could cause your ATV to topple over leading to an injury or fatality.
If you are driving an ATV too fast near one of the above-mentioned areas, and you hit a turn too quickly, you might have to brake too suddenly which can cause your ATV to become imbalanced. This can lead to you falling/flying off of the device, or the device toppling or overturning and potentially harming you.
An example of an injury in this way could be if you instinctually try to stop the device from flipping by using your leg against the ground, the ATV, in its 300lbs or more (plus momentum) could crunch your leg and then continue flipping anyways.
Here’s another video showing some ATV crashes. This isn’t meant to scare anyone away from riding, just to let you know the dangers.
Follow speed limits and suggestions
Of course, one of the top thrills of riding an ATV is the adrenaline that comes from the high speeds and associated wind through your hair. However, speed limits (and speed suggestions on unique terrains) can help you to drive your ATV more safely and avoid injury or death.
Now, while you will obviously have to follow legal limits while driving on low-traffic open roads, you should still review speed limit suggestions if you plan to drive on another surface. Since this is an all-terrain vehicle we are talking about, it is expected that you would be driving on something other than pavement.
So, to ensure your safety, be sure to review guidelines for common types of terrain that you plan to use. For example, you can do a quick Google search for how fast you should drive your ATV in the dirt, through the woods, or on a hill to get a more accurate picture of what speed limits to follow when there are no signs posted nearby.
Ensure the proper age for riders
Unfortunately, the age for ATV ridership is one of the most frequently disregarded regulations for ATV use, and it is also the most commonly associated disregarded warnings that results in death for too-young ATV users.
Age is not only a number when it comes to ATV use. The age for driving an ATV (16-years-old and up) was developed as a standard based on average age, weight, and decision-making abilities. Of course, some will be able to bypass this and will never see an injury, but of the injuries and fatalities that do occur, the sad majority are younger than this recommended age of 16-years-old.
So, while you might think that your son or daughter can handle the thrill and is capable of making good decisions while driving (and maybe they are), the age restriction was set in stone for a reason. Keep in mind that many grieving parents thought the same thing for their kids before permitting them to drive on an ATV for the last time.
Wear a helmet and other safety gear
This safety guideline is pretty self-explanatory and goes across the board with all similar devices. Under the age of 18-years-old, drivers are required to wear a helmet. But, of course, all drivers should wear one regardless. Other safety gear can include long, thick pants like denim in case of a fall (to prevent burns), and more depending on the specific terrain of your drive.
Check out the ATV Helmet I recommend for an idea of a quality option.
Avoid making decisions based on adrenaline
Again, this might seem like overkill to even include this suggestion, but age aside, many ATV drivers get a little too caught up in the thrill and end up making poor decisions as the adrenaline runs through their veins. Like Honda says, “Stupid hurts,” so choose to drive your ATV wisely.
Do not carry a passenger
Even though passengers are not permitted on ATVs, many people still find a way to make this work. Now, in a low-speed, short-distance route in your backyard, you might be able to make this work and get away with it. But on rougher terrain and at higher speeds, your passenger can create even more of an imbalance for the ATV and can potentially be launched off in a spillover.
The most common passengers on ATVs are children. Many parents think that they can safely drive their child from one place to another on this type of vehicle. Not only is this illegal in many locations, but it is clearly against the recommendations of the manufacturer and can pose a great risk to your child.
How Common are ATV Injuries?
Reported ATV injuries account for over 125,000 emergency room visits annually and 700 annual fatalities. Though many injuries are caused by the improper use (including underage driving) of ATVs, their danger is not to be taken lightly. Be sure to use sound judgment and cautious driving to prevent avoidable ATV injuries.
Check out my Recommended ATV Safety Gear to make sure you have quality gear that will keep you safe on the trails.