Since 1982, there have been nearly 400 deaths related to the operation of ATVs, short for “all terrain vehicles.” Like any other power machine, the ATV is a safe, versatile vehicle when handled properly by responsible adults, yet their operation is far too often given over to small children.
According to statistics collected between 1982 and 2012 by the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), there have been, nationally, 2,944 ATV-related fatalities of children younger than 16 years of age and 43 percent of them were younger than 12. The CPSC also states that children 16 and under comprised 24 percent of the total number of ATV related deaths.
Unfortunately, these machines are not being treated like the dangerous power equipment they are but instead as if they are children’s toys. It’s not uncommon to see very small children riding these powerful four-wheelers (and there are still a few three-wheelers out there). Any responsibility for accidents must be laid firmly on the shoulders of the parents as well as those legislators who can’t be bothered with increasing safety regulations on these devices.
Currently, age restrictions on ATV operations in Ohio are, in this commentator’s opinion, far too lenient, and logically inconsistent. For example, as of 2014, the Ohio law states that, “to operate an ATV on public lands, one must have a driver’s license or motorcycle endorsement. The Department of Natural Resources may permit a person at least 12 (years of age) to operate on Department land if accompanied by a parent.”
In the next section the regulations state, “No one under 16 may operate an ATV unless on land owned by a parent or accompanied by an adult 18 or older.” It’s as if, in one regulation, the legislators acknowledge the dangers involved in operating these machines and that people should be qualified, licensed drivers. But in the other, just having a parent there qualifies the kid to be behind the handlebars.
When children operate these machines there are two issues to consider: Experience and size. A licensed driver will have had some training and experience behind the wheel and be at least somewhat more experienced than someone who has never operated a motor vehicle. Arguing also that a farm kid can handle it because of tractors and other equipment is ridiculous too. There is a big difference between disking a field and popping wheelies down a hillside on an ATV.
Additionally, as stable as they may seem, to keep all four wheels on the ground, an ATV requires a certain amount of bulk in the form of the rider. Shifting the weight from side to side, similar to riding a bike, is necessary and aids in steering and stability.
A small child of 6 or 7 years old, and maybe 60 pounds on the outside, simply does not have enough mass or strength to control the machine, regardless of its size. Even the smallest of these vehicles is powerful enough to cause a serious accident if not properly controlled and no safety switch or oversized helmet can outmatch the common sense of not letting a little kid ride it in the first place.
Liability is another major consideration. Without getting into the legal issues, it goes without saying that America is a litigious society and special endorsements are required on insurance policies to cover liability issues related to ATV operation. Even if there is insurance, the parents of an injured child can still sue the owner of the ATV or the property where the accident took place.
In the end, the question must be asked, “Is a few minutes of joy riding on an ATV worth risking the safety or perhaps the very life of a child?” For more information, download a complete copy of Ohio’s current ATV laws by visiting the online version of this article at www.deerinheadlines.com.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at deerinheadlines.com.