Safety Tips: 17 Things Not to Do With an ATV

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ATVs offer fantastic performance, but there are some things you should never do to ensure your safety and the vehicle’s well-being. 

For a beginner, it is easy to underestimate the skill and experience required to operate an ATV while staying safe and avoiding accidents. Things that a professional ATV racing driver makes look easy can send an inexperienced rider to the hospital in the blink of an eye. 

In this article, you’ll learn some of the most dangerous or costly mistakes you can make and things you should never do with your ATV: 

Caution: Always refer to the owner’s manual for instructions specific to your brand and ATV model. Failing to follow the instructions can lead to severe injury or death.

Related: 10 Effective Tips to Prevent ATV Accidents

Never Drive an ATV That Is Not Age-Appropriate

ATV riding is a dynamic activity where the rider actively uses their body weight to control and steer the vehicle safely and effectively.

A child might not have sufficient body weight or strength to manage the weight and power of an adult-size ATV safely.

Also, a child or teen might not yet have developed the ability to understand the risk involved and how to act so as not to lose control of the vehicle when unexpected situations occur. 

The increases rise with the ATV’s size, weight, and speed. Therefore, it’s crucial that young riders only operate ATVs that are age-appropriate.

Related: Choosing the best ATV for 10-year-old kids

Similarly, an adult might be too large and heavy to operate a youth-sized ATV safely. The suspension is not designed to carry that much weight, and the controls are sized for a physically more petite person. 

The weight and size of an adult raise the vehicle’s center of gravity, increasing the risk of tipping.

Never Operate an ATV Without Instruction

Like most vehicles, operating an ATV safely requires skill and practice. You should never ride an ATV without sufficient training and knowledge about how the vehicle works.

Read and understand the owner’s manual, which provides valuable information about safe operating procedures.

The most efficient way to learn and gain experience is from a trained instructor in a training course.

In reality, many ATV riders will never take an ATV riding course. But as a bare minimum, you should ask an experienced ATV rider to guide you through the riding techniques and most common mistakes.

Never Ride an ATV While Intoxicated

This goes without saying for most, but never operate an ATV while intoxicated by drugs, alcohol, medicine, or anything else. 

Never Operate an ATV Without the Proper Safety Gear

Operating an ATV always involves some risk. It is essential to wear the proper safety gear to reduce the chance of severe injury or death.

As a bare minimum, you should always wear a helmet whenever you ride an ATV. 

However, for your safety, it is highly recommended to wear the following gear:

Don’t Accelerate or Brake Excessively or Abruptly

If the wheels were to find traction during hard acceleration, most ATVs have the power to flip the ATV backward, or you might get thrown off the vehicle. If you’re an inexperienced rider, you might not have the experience to act fast enough to prevent an accident. 

Similarly, abrupt braking can throw you over the handlebars if you’re unprepared.

Besides the dangers, hard acceleration and braking significantly increase vehicle wear, leading to costly repairs.

Don’t Ride at Excessive Speeds

Adjust the speed to match the terrain, visibility, current operating conditions, your riding ability, and the skill level of any passenger you have.

ATVs are not designed to operate at highway speeds; they perform best at moderate speeds and can become unstable if you ride too fast.

Don’t Turn Sharply or at Excessive Speeds

ATVs have a relatively high center of gravity, increasing the risk of the vehicle’s overturning. Turning too sharp or cornering at high speeds can cause the ATV to tip over.

Avoid Reckless Driving or Exhibition Driving

Avoid driving in a manner that disturbs others by creating unnecessary noise, such as tire squealing, skidding, and sliding while accelerating or braking.

Not only does this driving cause annoyance, but it also increases the risk of overturning the vehicle. 

Also, never attempt jumps, wheelies, or other stunts. 

Never Exceed the Recommended Number of Passengers

Never carry a passenger on a 1-up ATV or more than one on a 2-up ATV. Also, do not carry a passenger on a 2-up vehicle before you’ve gained at least two hours of riding experience. 

Never Operate an ATV on Steep Inclines or Sidehills

The general recommendation is never to operate an ATV on steeper than 15% incline hills.

In your safety training, you will learn proper turning techniques on a hill and what to do if the ATV begins to tip. 

Never Operate an ATV on Paved Surfaces

While some ATVs are approved for on-road use, it is strongly recommended never to ride on paved roads.

ATVs and other vehicles can be unwieldy on paved surfaces due to their large off-road wheels and soft suspension. 

Their narrow wheel stance and relatively high center of gravity increase the risk of tipping when riding on a grippy surface like concrete or asphalt. 

Never Operate an ATV on Slippery Surfaces

While doing donuts in the mud or on ice may look fun, there is a high risk of tipping when the tires suddenly regain traction. 

When driving at higher speeds on a slippery surface, you can quickly lose control of the vehicle, and attempting to drive up a slippery hill can send you sliding down uncontrolled. 

Avoid Extremely Rough Terrain or Crossing Big Obstacles

While ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle, that doesn’t mean you should operate your ATV in any terrain. 

When riding in rough and extremely bumpy terrain, the ATV can quickly become unstable and flip to either side if one of the wheels drops into a dip in the surface. 

Always travel slowly and use extra caution when riding in unfamiliar terrain. 

Generally, it would be best not to attempt crossing over obstacles taller than the ATV’s ground clearance.

Crossing obstacles like rocks, fallen trees, and roots can be hazardous when riding a steep hill.

Never Operate an ATV in Deep or Fast-Flowing Water

Most ATVs can safely be in still or slow-running water no deeper than up to the bottom of the footrests.

Riding in deep or fast-flowing water can cause water to enter the engine through the air intake, potentially ruining the engine.

Related: 16 Steps to Repair an ATV Submerged in Mud or Water

Never Carry a Load Only on One Cargo Rack

A common mistake people make is failing to distribute the cargo to the front and rear cargo racks.

  • An ATV with all the cargo on the rear cargo rack is much more prone to flipping backward when riding up a hill.
  • An ATV with all the load on the front cargo rack becomes hard to maneuver and may flip forward when riding downhill.

Always refer to the owner’s manual for guidelines on distributing the load on your ATV. Also, never exceed the ATV’s rated maximum payload capacity or the rated capacity of any of the cargo racks.

A full-sized ATV can typically carry about 250lb of cargo, with ⅓ of the weight placed on the front racks and ⅔ of the weight on the rear. 

Avoid Carrying Oversized or Unstable Cargo

Unstable cargo or cargo that extends outside the ATV can get caught up on trees or other obstacles, increasing the risk of tipping.

Never Operate a Damaged ATV

Even minor damages can have significant unexpected effects on the handling and performance of your ATV. 

Don’t Make Unsafe Modifications

Modifications like installing bigger tires, lift kits, or aftermarket exhaust can make the ATV look cool, but be aware of some of the downsides that come with them.

For example, installing tires that are too big can negatively affect performance and handling and make the ATV top-heavy. It can also cause rubbing and other issues that can damage other components. 

Things to Avoid to Maintain Your ATV’s Appearance

ATVs are built rugged but quickly lose their factory shine if you don’t treat them well. Here are some common mistakes that can take years off the looks of your ride. 

  • Never store the ATV outside, exposed to the sun or rain, for more extended periods. UV radiation from the sun causes plastic and paints to fade, and rain causes corrosion. 
  • Never skip scheduled maintenance, leading to excessive wear and costly repairs.
  • Never leave the ATV dirty, as mud and dirt may cause corrosion and stains that do not come off easily. 

Related: How to Keep Your ATV Clean and Looking Like New

The Bottom Line

This article doesn’t cover every possible unsafe action with an ATV, but it provides a solid base for understanding the essentials of safe ATV operation.

Ultimately, it’s the rider’s responsibility to assess the risks and operate the ATV safely. If the rider is underage, this responsibility belongs to the child’s parent or guardian.

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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