All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and their big brothers, utility-type vehicles (UTVs), are fun and practical. But if misused they can be dangerous, and even deadly. The Consumer Products Safety Commission said in 2006, the last full year of verified reporting, there were an estimated 903 deaths in the U.S. related to ATV use, and 146,600 emergency-room treated injuries. The CPSC said as of 2008 the risk of death every year was a startling 70 for every 100,000 four-wheelers in use.
Capt. Tim Hull, director of the Public Information and Education Division for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, knows these risks all too well. “It’s far all too often that we get calls,” Hull told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “especially as the weather starts warming up, and we see some holiday periods where people are visiting relatives, going out to their farms and operating ATVs.” And typically, most of the serious or fatal crashes could have been avoided, he says, “just by following the rules, and the laws that pertain to ATVs in Missouri.”
MSHP details those laws in a brochure available at its website. Among them: ATVs cannot be operated on highways, including dirt or gravel roads, except for official government use or for agricultural purposes and then only between sunrise and sunset. Those operators, of course, must have a drivers license. When operated on a street or highway, the ATV must also have a lighted head lamp and tail lamp, and on its rear both a slow-moving equipment emblem and a bicycle flag, extending at least seven feet above the ground. In addition, all ATVs must have an adequate muffler system, a U.S. Forest Service-qualified spark arrester; and a brake system in good operating condition. In addition, the ATV has to be registered and to display the registration sticker on the front fork.
MSHP has at least one public information officer assigned to each troop who will go out regularly and conduct programs on the proper operation of ATVs and other farm vehicles, and will send its officers to voice radio Public Service Announcements about ATV safety.
Although Missouri law only mandates helmet use for youth under 18, Hull says, “In those types of areas where you’ve got a really rugged terrain, if it’s off-road we always tell people that whether the law requires them to wear a helmet or not, they should wear a helmet.” It’s also important to be extremely careful when unloading an ATV from a hauler; MSHP sees many accidents where the four-wheeler gets away and flips on top of people, or where people trying to unload an ATV are run over by another vehicle.
And, he says, “We see accidents where people are out riding the ATV and they’re going across terraces and hills and creek bottoms and things like that; you just need to be very cautious about that, because those vehicles have a very narrow wheelbase and they can turn over very easily.”  While children under 16 can legally operate an ATV, they must be either on a parent’s land or accompanied by a parent.
Arkansas law is a little looser; the cutoff age for unsupervised use is 12, and children operating an ATV must either be with a person 18 or older, on a parent’s land, or with the permission of the land owner.
ATVs may not be used on public streets or highways, except to cross these roads or for farming or hunting to get from one field to another. An ATV may be used on public streets outside city limits to get from one trail to another or to private property.
Amanda Williams, Safety Coordinator for Arkansas Farm Bureau, says it’s important to match the size of the ATV to the operator; they’re rated based on weight. “If you have a 100 lb. person, they’re not going to have complete control of a 600 lb. ATV,” Williams tells OFN.
UTVs, she says, “are now equipped with the roll-over protection systems (ROPS) and seat belts and with those combined, that keeps the driver in the driver’s seat. With passengers as well… so if a UTV was to roll over it’s going to keep the driver and the passengers in their seats as long as they have their seat belts on, and so they will not be ejected from the vehicle.” UTVs also now have either doors or a netting; that keeps arms and legs inside the vehicle for protection in the event of a rollover.
The biggest mistake operators of ATVs make, Williams says, is to allow more than one rider. “You have more stability when you have one rider,” she says. “They are made to have one person on there, not two people, and you have more control of the ATV if there’s only one on there.” ATVs are safe, she says, if you follow the guidelines, “but it takes both you and the machine to be safe.”


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