All Terrain Vehicle Safety


In recent years the popularity of all terrain vehicles (ATV's) has soared. Most units are sold for recreational use, have three or four large soft tires and are designed for off-road use. They're relatively inexpensive, appear easy to learn to ride, and fun whether going through the woods, fields, or over sand dunes.


Or are they? Sure, anyone can buy one, take it home, turn it on and delight the family. But at what risk?


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC's) injury statistics indicated a dramatic increase in injuries and deaths associated with ATVs during the 1982-85 period and a continued high number of injuries and deaths in 1986. The CPSC estimates that the number of ATV-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms rose from 8,600 in 1982 to 86,400 in 1986. That's a 100% increase.


Who's Being Killed? Your Children!


As of March 2, 1987, CPSC had documented reports of 696 ATV-related deaths (1982-1987). Of these 696 fatalities, 313 victims(45 percent) were under 16 years of age and 139 victims (20 percent) were under 12 years of age. Children are a particularly vulnerable population. Almost half of the injured persons were also under 16 years of age.


The average risk of injury from ATV riding is high. Over its estimated seven-year life, the average ATV has a one-in-three chance of being involved in an accident resulting in injury. In 1986, about 11 percent of the persons treated in hospital emergency rooms were hospitalized. The majority of accidents occurred when the ATV overturned after hitting a terrain irregularity or obstacle, or while turning or traversing a slope.


Safety Tips


Based on information obtained from a 1985-86 study, CPSC alerts consumers to the following safety information:


Children under 12 years of age should not operate any ATV. This is because typically they lack:


  • Adequate physical size and strength
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Motor skills
  • Perception to operate a motor vehicle safety.


ATVs are difficult to ride and require constant attention to avoid accidents. Other safety tips include:


  • Before you ride an ATV, always read the owner's instruction manual and follow the manufacturer's guidance for use, maintenance, and pre-use checks.


  • Drive carefully and use good judgment when using your ATV.


  • Observe local laws or regulations and any regulations which have been established for public recreational areas where ATV use is permitted.


The Right-Size ATV


Children between the ages of 12 and 15 should not operate adult-size (greater than 90 cc) ATVs. The risk of injury for 12-15 year old drivers of adults ATVs is one and one-half to two times the average risk of injury on ATVs.


CPSC has received reports of 168 deaths to children between 12 and 15 years of age. Most deaths have occurred on adult-size ATVs. If you want your children to ride an ATV with you, buy a child-size ATV, ensure they have the proper professional training and safe equipment.




ATV's are no different from motorcycles, cars, or any vehicle with a motor. They require training.


Hands-on training courses are necessary for all ATV operators. Inexperienced drivers in their first month of using an ATV have 13 times the average risk of injury.


Beginning drivers should receive a training course from certified instructors, and basic maneuvers taught in training should be practiced regularly on safe terrain. Children should ride only under close adult supervision. The CPSC injury survey showed that almost half of the drivers had less than a year's experience, and one-fourth had less than one month's experience.




Helmets could have saved the lives of approximately 25 percent of the people who died from head injuries in ATV accidents. In the CPSC injury survey, three-fourths of the drivers with head injuries were not wearing an approved helmet. Without the protection of a helmet, the risk of head injury was twice as high as when the injured person wore a helmet. Over half of the injured persons had worn no protective equipment, such as helmets, gloves and heavy boots.




Never ride an ATV with a passenger.


ATVs are designed for one driver and no passengers and have unique handling characteristics.


The presence of a passenger seriously impairs the driver's ability to shift weight in order to steer and control the ATV. In the CPSC injury survey 31 percent of the drivers carried passengers on the ATV, and 20 percent of the injured people were passengers.


Almost 10 percent of the injuries and over 25 percent of the deaths occurred while operating the ATV on paved roads. These accidents occur because of collisions with other vehicles and because ATVs are difficult to control on pavement. In 30 percent of all fatal ATV accidents, some alcohol use was mentioned.


Four-wheeled vs. three-wheeled


Although the stability of all ATVs is low, the stability of four wheeled ATVs is much better than the stability of three-wheeled ATVs. The risk of an accident on a three-wheeled ATV is about one and one-half to two times the risk oil a four-wheeled ATV. CPSC engineering tests show that the handling performance of a fully-suspended ATV is significantly better than that of front-only or tire-only suspended ATVs. If you want to know more about ATV safety and CPSC's actions concerning ATVs, write to Freedom of Information Division, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207




Whether you're an adult or child rider, ATV's are not toys. They are motorized machines that can kill and maim. With the proper choice of the right size four-wheel ATV for the rider; thorough training; the right safety equipment; proper maintenance; keeping to off-road trails; rules, and laws; and adult supervision at all times, they can be a source of safe family fun. Without these, they can be a source of family tragedy. It's your choice.


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