The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

November 25, 2013

Extension educators urge safety first for ATV riders


MORGANTOWN — Many hunters who hit the trails this season will use all-terrain vehicles to reach their destinations, but most won’t have received the proper safety training, according to West Virginia University Extension Service experts.

Approximately 40 West Virginians die annually in ATV accidents, a statistic that’s slow to decrease, says Mark Whitt, WVU Extension Service Mingo County 4-H agent.

“The only way to lower the death rate is through safety training and preventive education,” Whitt said.

WVU Extension Service provides educational training opportunities through a partnership with the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles and t he American Safety Institute. WVU Extension has nine certified trainers who deliver adult and youth training programs throughout the state.

But for the state to see any significant changes in these statistics, there has to be a shift in the culture, according to Donna Patton, WVU Extension Service 4-H specialist.

“Parents don’t let their children hunt without training first, because they know it’s not safe to do so,” Patton said. “Yet, we hand our kids keys to a powerful machine and let them ride, no questions asked. Parents literally hold the keys to their child’s safety when it comes to ATVs.”

Patton said it’s common for accidents to happen as a result of riding a vehicle that is too large for the rider.

“Families might think that they only need one ATV to share, or maybe they can only afford one machine,” she said. “But, the bottom line is that a machine must match the height and weight of the operator for it to be a safe ride.”

“ATVs are interactive machines,” Patton said. “They require constant body weight balance and shifting. It’s not as simple as getting on the machine and hitting the gas.”

Patton said that hunters taking to the hills might find themselves faced with unique challenges.

“It’s important that riders always scout out their terrain before getting on the ATV so that they know where the hazards are,” she said.

Patton said the hunting season also has many riders using their machines as transportation for equipment, coolers and even their deer.

“A single-rider ATV isn’t meant to be a cart,” she warned. “Extra weight and equipment throw off the balance of the ATV, making it more likely to tip and lead to injuries.”

And while many accidents do happen in the state’s hills and on trails, Patton warns that no matter how far you ride, safety should always come first.

“Many people feel that if they’re riding on their property safety equipment isn’t necessary,” she said. “So many accidents happen in our own backyards. Safety isn’t just a requirement for the trails, it’s a habit to get into at home, too.”

Follow these tips from WVU Extension Service and the ATV Safety Institute for a safe riding experience:

- Wearing a helmet is one of the simplest safety measures to take to reduce the likelihood of serious injury or fatality. Most ATV fatalities are the result of head trauma.

- West Virginia requires riders under the age of 18 to wear a Department of Transportation-approved helmet while operating a vehicle in the state.

- Head trauma caused by an ATV accident is most likely to occur on a paved surface. ATVs are designed for riding only on unpaved terrain, including dirt or gravel surfaces. No ATVs have tires approved for paved surfaces.

- Manufacturers’ labels on ATVs clearly state that single-rider ATVs should not carry passengers.

- Never ride under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

All riders are encouraged to take the ATV Safety Institute’s e-Course at www.atvsafety.org. Mark the box to indicate that you are taking the course through Cooperative Extension programming.

Local training opportunities for schools or individual riders are provided by WVU Extension Service. To learn more about these opportunities contact your local county office of the WVU Extension Service, or visit http://ext.wvu.edu/.