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Keep ATVs fun by being safe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many children don't want to wait until they are older to join in the fun to be had on off-road vehicles, but safety experts urge them to be cautious when they do.
With the proper training and protective gear, youth can drive more safely on properly-sized vehicles such as four-wheelers, but Choctaw County agent Dannie Reed said he sees many unsafe riders.
"We will continue to have accidents and the opportunity for fatal accidents, because many parents and youth are not following basic safety precautions," Reed said.
All-terrain vehicle manufacturers recommend beginning drivers take a safety course before riding and discourages riders from driving after consuming alcohol or drugs. ATVs were not designed for passengers or driving on pavement and should not be used on public roads. Riders should wear protective gear such as goggles, helmet, boots, gloves and sturdy pants.
Reed, who is with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, speaks regularly to elementary school youth about recreational vehicle safety. He said many of these students know safety practices, but either are not encouraged to follow them or don't have the needed gear.
"Many parents don't provide helmets for the youth and others are not requiring their use," Reed said. "This is a dangerous combination that could result in serious injury to young people."
Another problem occurs when youth ride vehicles that are too large or powerful for them to safely handle. The ATV Safety Institute, a non-profit division of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, recommends riders age 6 to 12 use ATVs smaller than a 70-cubic centimeter engine size. Riders ages 12 to 16 can drive ATVs with 70 to 90cc engines, while those larger than 90cc should only be driven by riders age 16 and older.
"Manufacturers and safety officials warn that using a too-large or powerful ATV can result in death from overturns and increased speed," Reed said. "Large four-wheelers are more powerful and harder to control, and if a youth loses control and overturns one of these, the heavy weight can severely injure smaller riders."
The ATV Safety Institute recommends young riders be able to sit comfortably and have both feet firmly on the footrests, easily reach foot controls, and be able to reach fingers around the handlebars and brake levers, even with the wheel turned.
Young riders should be strong enough to squeeze hand controls and press the brake lever, and be familiar enough with shifting and operating the choke and fuel valve to use them without looking. These riders also should have good endurance, coordination and visual perception.
Other things to avoid are passengers, stunts and riding on public roads or pavement.
"Most ATVs are not designed to handle safely on hard surface roads," Reed said. "Road riding tends to encourage more speed and severe accidents have occurred from overturns and collisions with automobiles."
For more information, contact: Dannie Reed, (662) 285-6337