“Are ATVs dangerous?” This is one of the most common questions our ATV tour operators get, and they’re usually posed by first-time riders or concerned family and friends.
We know you want to be aware of all potential dangers before hitting the trails – or allowing your child to do so. That’s why we’ve made this honest guide where we’ll unearth the real safety level of ATVs and compare them to other off-road vehicles.
Gear up and let’s get going!
ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles) are about as dangerous as any other motorized vehicle.
This may be underscored by the fact that many states allow late or even young teens to ride them. For example, in Florida, even teens below the age of 16 can ride ATVs after completing a state-mandated safety course and while being supervised by adults.
With that said, ATVs can be unstable and difficult to control. Pair that with powerful engines, and they can pose a risk for inexperienced riders. As we’ll see below, they may also be more dangerous than some other off-highway vehicles — although that doesn’t mean they’re not safe to drive.
Who Should And Shouldn’t Ride ATVs?
Some of us may simply not be cut out for driving ATVs, while others will have no issues getting behind the handlebars and conquering any type of terrain. Knowing which group you fall into can help you determine how safe ATV driving will be for you.
Adults that took ATV safety courses are obviously the best candidates for riding ATVs.
However, that doesn’t mean you must take a course before hitting the trails. There are tons of materials online that can help you get the hang of operating an all-terrain vehicle. Alternatively, you can also go on ATV tours where experienced guides will walk you through crucial ATV-related safety measures and teach you how to properly operate the vehicles.
Teenagers can also make for great ATV riders – as long as they follow the safety rules and, preferably, have undergone training or are under adult supervision.
Although children under the age of 16 may be permitted to ride ATVs in some states, it’s still advisable they don’t do so, especially without supervision. Riding ATVs requires fast problem-solving and quick reflexes – skills that younger people may not have developed just yet.
Individuals with medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or epilepsy, should also avoid riding ATVs. Lastly, you should always avoid riding an ATV while intoxicated. Doing so is extremely dangerous and should be avoided.
Most ATV accidents are caused by what’s officially called “operator error.” This means that most accidents happen because of ATV riders who are either too inexperienced, reckless, intoxicated while driving, or have simply made a mistake.
Some of the commonly-made mistakes include:
Avoiding these mistakes will help you minimize the risk of an accident.
In most cases, ATV incidents cause only minor injuries, such as small cuts and bruises.
However, some ATV-related accidents can lead to more serious injuries, like broken bones, spinal cord injuries, internal organ damage, and head injuries.
To avoid such major harm and trauma, make sure you always wear a helmet and other protective gear while driving ATVs.
How do ATVs compare to other vehicles commonly used for off-road adventures? Are they more or less dangerous?
We’ll discuss this by comparing ATVs to UTVs, motorcycles, and dirtbikes.
ATVs are somewhat more dangerous than UTVs (Utility Terrain Vehicles). For example, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission report, there were 481 cases of ATV-related deaths in 2018, while only around 15 fatalities were related to UTVs.
(Note: CPSC did say that their staff may have overestimated the number of ATV-related deaths.)
However, Utility Terrain Vehicles, as their name implies, are designed for specific tasks and activities, such as farming, hunting, or hauling equipment. They’re not primarily designed for recreational purposes – although they’re often used in that way.
That’s why they’re more stable than ATVs, but may also be less fun and inappropriate for certain terrains.
ATVs’ biggest advantage is that they’re lightweight and compact, allowing riders to navigate all sorts of terrains and tight spaces. The part of the fun is the very fact that they’re harder to control and require more focus and physical coordination.
As a vehicle with four wheels, an ATV is typically more stable than a motorcycle and easier to operate. As such, ATVs may be more appropriate for inexperienced riders with limited skills.
However, it should be noted that ATV crashes are more likely to be fatal than motorcycle crashes. This is partly due to many ATV riders not wearing helmets and partly because ATVs are more fatal when they roll over. They’re heavier than motorcycles and, thus, capable of inflicting more serious injuries.
However, comparing motorcycles – or street bikes – to ATVs is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Motorcycles are intended to be driven on paved roads, while ATVs are designed to be driven off-road on a variety of terrains such as dirt, sand, mud, and rocky surfaces.
Perhaps these difficult terrains are part of the reason why ATV crashes are more likely to be fatal.
Unlike motorcycles or street bikes, dirt bikes are designed for off-road use just like ATVs. Because of that, it may be more appropriate to compare ATVs’ safety level to that of dirt bikes.
Dirt bikes are two-wheelers, so our previous point still stands: ATVs will typically be easier to balance and more stable. They also offer more protection for the rider in the form of a roll cage or other structural elements that can help prevent serious injuries.
However, ATVs are more likely to roll over and trap the rider underneath. Their weight may make it difficult to move and lead to more serious injuries, either caused by the weight of the vehicle or the riders’ inability to move for prolonged periods of time.
Here’s what you should avoid doing to ensure you stay safe while driving ATVs.
How you should act in case of an ATV accident may depend on the type of accident you’re in.
If your ATV starts rolling over, try to stay on top of it by holding onto the handlebars. If it does roll over, try to stay calm and safely get out from under the ATV.
However, if you’re trapped under the ATV and can’t get out, try to call for help first. Trying to lift the ATV yourself may not be wise, especially if you’ve already been injured. Still, if you don’t have your cell phone or anyone to call for help nearby, doing so may be your only option.
Here’s what to do in case of a crash:
ATVs flip easily mainly because they have a high center of gravity and narrow wheelbase, which makes them less stable than some other vehicles – such as UTVs. However, riders often increase the risk of flipping by speeding, taking sharp turns, and making sudden movements.
The most likely causes of a rollover include sharp turns, steep inclines, uneven terrain, speeding, and sudden movements. Riding with a passenger or carrying a heavy load can also increase the risk of a rollover.
First-time drivers are always advised to go on ATV tours before driving the vehicles independently. This ensures you or your child get all the necessary information and drive in groups for maximum safety.
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