ATVs: Ride your way to safety

With spring in the air, many people are hitting the trails on their ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicle). Getting out on your ATV and enjoying the nice weather is a great recreational activity, but there are also hazards that accompany this pastime.

ATVs are especially dangerous when used by children and young teens because they lack the knowledge, physical size, strength, and cognitive and motor skills to operate them safely.

Males are involved in 75 to 85 per cent of ATV crashes leading to injury, according to a 2009 Canadian Pediatric Society report. Children less than 16 years of age account for almost one third of ATV injury related emergency department visits, and 30 per cent or more of ATV injuries result in hospitalizations. Almost half of all deaths occur in children 16 years of age or younger.

Most provinces require ATV riders to wear helmets and have restrictions for young riders. Some require, for instance, that an adult supervise riders less than 14 years of age. In Alberta and British Columbia there is currently no provincial law that regulates helmet use, but certain jurisdictions require a rider to wear one. There is also no current legislation that mandates users to take an ATV safety training course, except for in Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Michel Prud’homme, chief instructor and manager of traffic safety and training at Canada Safety Council, believes that training and testing for ATV operators should be mandatory. “I don’t know what’s taking so long,” he says. “With all the injuries and deaths that have occurred throughout the country you’d think the government would do something about it, but there’s still no legislation.”

Dr. Andrew McCallum, Chief Coroner of Ontario, said all ATV riders should complete a rider safety course in their area or through the Canada Safety Council, and parents, children, and teens should be aware of the risk of injury or death when riding an ATV especially in the absence of adult supervision. “These are preventable deaths,” Dr. McCallum concluded. He also recommends increased public education regarding the safe operation of ATVs, and permission to ride an ATV on approved trails only from age 12 to 16.

The biggest problem with ATV regulation may actually be their size. ATVs are always getting bigger and more powerful and young people are riding machines they’re not big enough for and cannot control. “Full size ATVs are large heavy and powerful machines that require strength, balance, dexterity, and judgment, which children have not yet developed,” explains Dr. McCallum. “Children are at risk of riding too fast or riding onto uneven ground, losing control of the machine, and being thrown from the vehicle or crushed in a rollover.”

It doesn’t take much of a spill to be seriously hurt while riding an ATV, and dozens of people die every year in Canada doing just that. Yet despite the coroner’s recommendation that anyone 12 and older riding an ATV should take an approved course, no such legislation exists in many provinces in Canada.

“Knowing how a machine operates, what the engineering is behind each machine, and what the rules and regulations are provincially and municipally will lead to a much safety experience,” says Dave Horner, an ATV instructor with the Canada Safety Council.

Here are some safety tips that all ATV owners and operators should follow:

  • Always wear an approved safety helmet when operating an ATV.
  • Take an approved ATV Safe Riders Course before operating your ATV.
  • Always read your owner’s manual before operating your ATV and follow safe operating procedures.
  • Do not consume alcohol or drugs while operating an ATV.
  • Do not operate an ATV at excessive speeds. Ride at a speed that is proper for the terrain visibility conditions and your experience.
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing while operating your ATV.

The Canada Safety Council recommends for all ATV owners and operators to take a rider safety training course, regardless of whether it is mandatory in your home province.

The CSC’s ATV Rider Course is a hands-on training program led by certified instructors. It offers an enjoyable and structured approach to proper ATV operation. For more information, contact Michel Prud’homme at (613) 739-1535, ext. 233.