There are many potentially dangerous pieces of equipment and machinery on farms. One of the most common — and most dangerous for young people — is all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

Though ATVs have many uses, 60% of ATV deaths occur in agriculture, said Curt Porterfield during a webinar put on by Agri-Safe for National Farm Safety and Health Week, which is this week. On average, 500 people die and 100,000 people are seriously injured every year while using ATVs.

Children riding ATVs account for more than 11,000 emergency room visits annually, continued Porterfield. Laws vary from state to state, but often, children between the ages of 12 and 16 can only operate certain low-power models. Children under 12 should never drive an ATV. “Be familiar with what your law says. They are restricted for a reason,” noted the Virginia Tech health and safety training coordinator.

ATVs present unique safety concerns because they must be straddled, do not have a seatbelt, often don’t have a rollover protection structure (ROPS), and use handlebars for steering and throttle. Rollovers are the most common type of incident with ATVs, and avoiding them is largely dependent on the operator’s behavior. Porterfield stressed that every ATV operator must know their equipment, load, and terrain.

Perform preventative maintenance and check over the machine before use. Also be sure to read the operator’s manual. “Your operator’s manual is key to your safety,” Porterfield said. It will have information about weight limits for your cargo racks and requirements or limitations for after-market attachments. When adding any type of weight to the machine, consider how it will affect the center of balance, he emphasized. This is how rollovers can be caused or prevented.

In addition to preparing a safe machine, Porterfield advised all ATV operators to be active riders. This means being able to quickly brake, accelerate, or make body weight shifts to effectively control the machine. An operator must be able to predict what may be coming up in their path (such as knowing where holes, slopes, or fences may be) and what to do about it. “Seconds add up to your safety,” Porterfield said.

Preventing incidents also means controlling your speed, especially if you are driving on a paved road. States vary in their road policies for ATVs, but regardless, Porterfield advised avoiding them when possible. ATVs were made for off-road travel, and that means their tires are designed to grip. On a smooth, paved road, they can stick instead. This makes turns, in particular, dangerous. If you must cross over a road, do so in a place with good visibility for you and car traffic.

Rollovers often occur when riding on hilly terrain. Porterfield instructed not to ride straight up an incline of any more than 15 degrees and not to ride sideways on an incline of more than 25 degrees.

In the worst case scenario, personal protective equipment is a rider’s best line of defense. Always wear a helmet, Porterfield reminded, and make sure it is a motorcycle or motorsports one that covers the entire head. A bicycle helmet that leaves the sides, front, and rear of the head exposed will not provide the same protection. Wear long sleeves and pants, over the ankle boots, gloves, and additional face and eye protection if necessary.

Unless specifically designed for a second rider, an ATV should only carry one person, Porterfield stated. If no one else can accompany you on an ATV trek, make sure you have a way to call 911 if something happens and let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Simple measures like these add up to help avoid tragedies that can be prevented.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
September 21, 2023

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