We all know that ATV riding is not risk-free. But luckily, there is a lot you can do to reduce the risk of getting involved in an accident significantly.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s annual report, there are around 650 deaths and 100.000 ATV-related injuries yearly.
We are committed to doing our part in reducing these numbers. Therefore, we present ten tips every rider should know to prevent ATV accidents better.
1. Understand How ATV Riding Differs from Driving a Car
Cars can be safely maneuvered without almost any physical effort or bodily movement from the driver. ATVs, on the other hand, cannot.
For safe ATV operation, it is crucial to understand how to leverage your body weight for vehicle control. This involves shifting body weight to accommodate sharp turns, steep inclines, and uneven terrain.
Many ATV accidents happen because beginners underestimate the vehicle’s power and the physical strength required to hang on to the handlebar during hard acceleration or turning.
Learning safe handling in various riding situations takes a lot of practice. Start slowly and gradually work your way up as you learn and gain riding experience.
In this post about why ATVs have thumb throttles instead of twist throttles, we discuss some of the most critical differences between riding a motorcycle and an ATV.
2. Don’t Ride on Hills That Are Too Steep
Many ATV accidents happen when the rider attempts steeper hills than the bike can safely handle. ATVs have a relatively short wheelbase as well as narrow wheel spacing.
Also, they have a relatively high center of gravity with the rider on top. These two factors combined make for a machine that will tip over sooner than some riders expect.
ATVs are designed the way they are to fit between trees or rocks when riding off-road while at the same time keeping them highly maneuverable on rough surfaces.
They could be made wider, longer, and lower to increase stability, but that would defy some of an all-terrain vehicle’s purpose. It would no longer be “all-terrain” but more of a “sloped terrain vehicle.”
Here are a few tips for riding safely in hills:
- Inexperienced riders should begin by riding a low-angle hill to gain experience before gradually attempting steeper ones. Do not, in any case, ride steeper than recommended by the manufacturer. No written advice can replace the knowledge you gain from practice and learning how to feel how the bike behaves on various hill types and angles.
- When you attempt a steeper hill, stand up and lean your body toward the hill to make the bike less likely to flip.
- If you ride uphill, you will need to lean forward.
- If you ride downhill, you should lean back.
- And when you ride sideways, you must lean to the side that faces uphill.
- Never attempt to ride up or down a hill that is steeper than your comfort level. The ATV tipping over often happens without warning; when it does, it happens swiftly.
I go more in-depth on how to use your body weight to keep the ATV stable in this post about why ATVs have large seats.
3. Always Wear a Helmet
Head injuries are undoubtedly the leading cause of death or severe trauma in ATV accidents.
People often say: “But wearing a helmet is such a hassle, especially when doing utility work and riding at low speeds. They are sweaty and block your sight, and you only need them when riding at high speeds.” Wrong!
The truth is that a significant portion of severe ATV-related head injuries happen at low speeds. You never know if or when you may lose control of your bike.
Allow me to share the story of an ATV accident that almost cost my father his life.
The task was hauling fencing material to some hard-to-reach places on our cattle feeding grounds. My father did not have much ATV riding experience then but had been riding tractors off-road for decades.
On a side note, he is the type that tends to skip most types of safety gear, so he was not wearing a helmet.
He strapped a heavy bundle of 50 fence posts to the rear cargo rack of his Honda Foreman and attempted to go up this steep and bumpy hill.
Halfway up the hill, he lost traction. When the spinning wheels regained traction, the back-heavy ATV flipped backward and landed on top of him.
By pure luck, he only broke four ribs. The doctor told him he would likely not have made it if his head had been where his chest was.
He made three crucial mistakes:
- He attempted a challenge not fit for his experience level (riding a hill that was too steep).
- He did not wear a helmet.
- He did not balance his cargo correctly with all the with on the rear cargo racks.
Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by about 85%. Both ATV/MX helmets and motorcycle helmets will work to keep you safe. Read this post to learn the difference between the two.
Recommended Riding Gear for Protection Against ATV Injuries
Besides a suitable ATV helmet, here is what protective clothing to wear to reduce the chance of injuries:
- Eye Protection: It keeps rocks and bugs out of your eyes. With an ATV/MX helmet, wear suitable goggles. If you use a full-face motorcycle helmet, it will have a visor to protect your eyesight.
- Over-the-ankle boots: If you flip your ATV or go off the trail, a pair of stiff leather boots will better protect your feet and ankles. If you are into ATV racing, always use proper dirt bike boots.
- Gloves: Choose off-road style gloves with a rubber grip and proper knuckle protection.
- Clothing: Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect arms and legs.
Consider riding pants with kneepads and a jersey with shoulder pads for even better protection.
4. Distribute the Cargo Weight Correctly
By now, we have covered two of the three mistakes my dad made the day he flipped and his ATV landed on top of him.
The last error was not correctly distributing his cargo between the front and rear racks.
He put all his cargo on the rear rack and none on the front. To make matters worse, the cargo’s weight exceeded the rack’s rated capacity. Read this post about how much ATVs can safely carry.
He should have split the load and put about one-third of them on the front rack.
Had the front rack cargo capacity permitted, he could have placed almost half of the poles there, given that he was only going uphill. Distributing more weight to the front minimizes the risk of the vehicle flipping backward while ascending.
He would be better off placing most of the cargo weight on the rear cargo rack if he had been going downhill.
Understanding this basic principle is vital for safe cargo hauling on an ATV.
If you are a beginner, stick to the relative weight distribution recommended by the manufacturer. Usually, about one-third of the weight should be on the front cargo rack, and the remaining two-thirds on the rear.
5. Stay Off Paved Roads
Nearly one-third of all ATV deaths happen on paved roads or parking lots (source).
You must know that ATVs are not designed to ride on paved roads.
The short wheelbase and narrow wheel stance make them prone to tipping when riding on high-traction surfaces like asphalt and concrete. If you are not cautious, you risk overturning and losing vehicle control.
While ATVs are road-legal in some states and counties, I recommend staying off-highway as much as possible. In some states, ATVs are illegal for highway use.
6. Children Under 16 Should Never Ride Full-Size ATVs
I know that some adults will not agree with me on this one. They claim the kids will handle a full-size ATV just fine. “They learn so quickly, and it will make them better future riders.”
Well, yes, except things do not always go well. A significant portion of all ATV accidents are children getting hurt or killed by riding machines that are too big, heavy, and powerful for them to handle.
An ATV with power steering and automatic CVT transmission is relatively easy to operate under typical riding situations. But when things go wrong, a child may not have adequate body weight or strength to keep control of the machine.
Panic strikes and things may go wrong really fast. Kids’ brains are not yet sufficiently developed to fully understand the risk and consequences of riding a full-scale ATV.
After all, this is why they make youth ATVs. Here is my recommendation on the best ATV for 10-year-olds.
It is your responsibility as an adult to understand this risk and to explain it to your child. Get a proper size youth ATV when your child is ready, but never let a child ride an adult-size ATV.
You would not give your car keys to your kid, and the same should apply to ATVs.
7. Inexperienced Riders Should Use the Learning Key
Some ATV manufacturers now offer models with a dedicated learning mode intended for inexperienced riders and beginners.
Essentially, you get two different keys with your purchase. One is a standard key that activates the machine’s full power, while the other has a built-in digital speed- and power limiter.
This helps prevent typical beginner-related accidents where a rider is not yet accustomed to the power of the ATV panics and gives full throttle. I hope more manufacturers will follow and offer this great feature with their bikes.
8. Seek Qualified Guidance
Take a beginner’s ATV safety class, or ask an experienced rider to teach you how to ride safely in different riding conditions.
While I don’t offer ATV safety courses, I can’t stress enough the value of enrolling in a local ATV riding course, particularly for beginners. This isn’t advice from a salesperson but a sincere recommendation. The amount of knowledge you can gain in just a single day with an experienced instructor is remarkable.
If no courses are available close to you, the next best thing is to ask an experienced rider to teach you basic operating skills for safe and effective ATV operation.
ATV safety has a lot to do with knowing the machine’s limits and using your body to maneuver the vehicle properly. A lot of this can be learned from a rider who has experienced this learning curve.
9. Ensure the ATV Is Maintained and in Good Condition
Proper maintenance is essential to prevent ATV accidents.
- Worn brake pads or disks must be replaced to ensure adequate stopping power.
- The tires must have at least 1/2 inch of the remaining tread pattern and should be replaced when they start cracking due to dry rot.
- Make sure there are no brake fluid leaks.
- Make sure your lights are in good working order.
- If your bike has this option, adjust your suspension according to the riding you plan on doing.
10. Never Carry a Passenger on a 1-up ATV
Another common cause of ATV accidents is riding two people on a one-person machine. Some believe that it is OK to bring a passenger on their ATV. There is plenty of room for both to sit comfortably, right?
While ATVs do have large seats, that is not for you to bring a passenger. Please read this post to learn why ATVs have large seats.
If you bring a passenger on a non-touring bike, the rider cannot move properly to maneuver the machine safely. Also, there is often no backrest to prevent the passenger from falling off when cornering or accelerating.
Holding on to the rider is not sufficient. Not all passengers, especially children, have the necessary arm strength and focus on holding on.
What are the common causes of ATV accidents?
Common causes include improper cargo distribution, lack of safety gear, riding on unsuitable terrain, and inexperience.
How can I prevent ATV accidents?
Safety measures include proper training, wearing protective gear, correct cargo distribution, and maintaining your ATV.
Are children more prone to ATV accidents?
Yes, children are at a higher risk due to their limited body weight, strength, and understanding of risks.
The Bottom Line
Navigating the world of ATVs safely is a journey, not a destination. With constant practice, ongoing learning, and an unwavering commitment to safety, we can all do our part in reducing ATV-related accidents. So gear up, stay safe, and embrace the thrill of ATV riding with confidence and caution.