The ABCs of ATVs

ATV riding

Looking for a little off-road exploration? Now that it's almost summertime, you might be ready to break out your all terrain-vehicle (ATV). These vehicles are an entertaining way to spend the afternoon, but before you purchase an ATV or hop on one that you have in the garage, it is important to know and understand the ABCs of ATVs.

Important Stats

Operators of ATVs should be aware of the dangers of riding one of these two-, three-, or four-wheeled vehicles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission received 13,617 ATV-related fatality reports between 1982 and 2014. The number of fatal accident reports is expected to increase, as more consumers are using ATVs recreationally. 3,098 of those reported fatalities involved children younger than 16 years old; this amounts to 23 percent of the total reported ATV-related fatalities. Helmets are expected to reduce the risk of nonfatal head injury by 64 percent, so always put on your helmet.

Safety First

The ATV Safety Institute has "Golden Rules" that should be followed by all ATV operators. It is important that riders wear DOT-compliant helmets, long-sleeved pants, gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and over-the-ankle boots. Wearing the proper gear can protect drivers from accident injuries and off-road obstructions.

Drivers should never operate an ATV under the influence of alcohol — doing so is not only illegal, but it can put others in harm. Bottom line? Don't do it.

Because ATVs are only permitted for off-highway riding, these vehicles should only cross paved roads when it is necessary and permitted by law. ATVs are not toys, and they should thus be operated with caution and proper preparation. Following safety measures can prevent serious injuries to the operator, the environment, and other drivers. Safety first.

Quick Tips

Upon purchasing an ATV, take time to read the owner's manual, along with any additional materials that may be included. These manuals will indicate the ages permitted to safely operate the vehicle, based on the size and weight of the ATV. Some ATVs are not made for young operators, and letting your 12-year-old operate your shiny new ATV could be unsafe.

Pennsylvania's State Forests have designated specific trails for ATV trail enthusiasts to enjoy. It is illegal to operate an ATV on State Forest Roads that are open to licensed motor vehicles. To find out more about places that are legal for ATV use or made just for recreational ATV outings, you can check out local ATV clubs, county governments, or a Tourist Promotion Agency.

Know the Laws

States have varying laws regarding the education needed to drive an ATV, and this is based on age. In Pennsylvania, drivers under the age of 16 need safety training and certification and the direct supervision of someone at least 18 years of age. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources Bureau of Forestry, anyone over 16 years can take the online ATV safety course. You can take the course on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Pennsylvania residents who own or operate an ATV must title and register the vehicle with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. ATVs should not exceed the speed limits posted for motor vehicles, and the operators must use their best judgement to determine a safe speed for all riders.

Follow these steps for safe and happy travels!