Staying safe on all-terrain vehicles

A guide to keeping kids safe

In June, Garrett Underwood, 21, former St. Xavier High School football player, was killed and another man critically injured in an accident while riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Such accidents happen in Kentucky far more often than you might think. Last year 59 children injured in ATV accidents were admitted to Norton Children’s Hospital, and the hospital has seen 17 so far this year. Summer comes with a variety of increased risks, so it is important to recognize the precautions we should be taking to prevent ATV-related accidents.

“The helmet is critical,” said Erika Janes R.N., coordinator, Child Safety Programs.

Janes also indicated that buying an ATV that’s suitable for children is crucial. The safety educator said children should not be riding adult-size ATVs, which can go faster and are more dangerous for children. It is also very important to stay off paved roads.

ATVs can weigh more than 800 pounds and can reach speeds beyond 50 mph or more.  They have a high center of gravity and no roll bars, safety cages, or seatbelts, which means they can tip over easily and throw off drivers and passengers. They may even roll over on top of riders.  These incidents can cause serious injury or death, usually because of head injuries. Other common injuries include cuts, scrapes, and broken collarbones, arms, and legs.

When it comes to ATV safety it is hard to avoid the facts:

  • Nearly half of all people injured in ATV accidents are under age 16.
  • Every year, approximately 25,000 children under age of 16 are treated in emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries.
  • 23 percent of all people killed in ATV accidents were age 16 or younger; 43 percent age 12 or younger.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages children under age 16 from driving ATVs because they lack the developmental skills needed to safely operate an adult-size ATV.

Want more information? Visit more safety tips and links on ATV safety.

How Kentucky compares:

  • Kentucky ranks third in the number of deaths from ATV accidents, according to the Brain Injury Association of Kentucky (BIAK).
  • There were 595 ATV deaths in Kentucky reported from 1982 to 2009.
  • 35 percent of ATV-related deaths involve people age 16 and younger
  • Pike, Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Letcher, Clay, Leslie, Pulaski, Bell, Laurel, Perry, Trigg, and Whitley counties lead Kentucky in ATV deaths.

Riding ATVs is fun, and young people often want to give it a try. Even with precautions and protective laws in place, there is no way to guarantee a child’s safety. Be sure to instruct your child on all safety precautions to avoid serious injury. See the following safety guidelines for tips everyone can use to increase ATV safety.

Safety guidelines:

  • Kids age 16 and younger should not ride an ATV.
  • Take a safety certification class to learn how to operate an ATV safely.
  • Ride an ATV that’s right for your size and age.
  • Always wear an approved helmet and eye protection. In many states, helmets and eye protection are required by law, particularly for kids.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots to help prevent scrapes and cuts.
  • Ride only during daylight hours.
  • Always ride at a safe speed on a designated ATV trail.
  • Know basic first aid and how to get help in an emergency.

Never do the following:

  • Never ride on a three-wheel ATV.
  • Never ride while drinking alcohol or using drugs.
  • Never ride on paved surfaces or public roads (except to cross them).
  • Never exceed the limit of passengers indicated by the manufacturer.
  • Never allow kids or teens to drive a passenger.

Always keep in mind the laws regarding ATV safety and know that they are there for your protection.

Kentucky ATV laws:

  • All riders (operators and passengers) age 16 or over on public property must wear a helmet
  • No one under age 12 may operate an ATV with an engine greater than 70 cc.
  • No one under age 16 may operate an ATV with an engine greater than 90 cc.
  • No one under age 16 may operate an ATV without parental supervision.
  • ATV use on public roads or highways is prohibited, except to cross these roads or for agricultural use.


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