Before revving up the all-terrain vehicle and rolling it through creeks and over rocks, there are a few important safety steps for riders of all ages to consider.
“It just makes my heart hurt when I see people get hurt,” said Mike Farmer, a member of the board of directors for the Mountain Trail Riders Association, a local club of more than 450 members of ATV and off-highway vehicle riders who support safety issues and public trail systems.
Farmer says ATVs used to be slow and sluggish, but their increasing popularity as recreational vehicles has pushed the industry to create new classes of ATVs. Some can weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds and others will go about 70 miles per hour.
That much power can be dangerous, so the MTRA is attending safety fairs and talking to as many parents and children as they can about how to prevent ATV accidents.
“An ATV is not a toy,” Farmer said. “People buy them for themselves or their kids thinking that you just start it and ride it and that you can’t get hurt.”
The club, based out of Piney Flats, has a must-have safety equipment list that they pass along to ATV riders and anyone who has OHVs such as off-road motorcycles, a side-by-side or rock crawlers.
Their list includes:
n A Department of Transportation approved helmet. Farmer says most people think they can wear any helmet, but a DOT approved helmet is recommended because of the impact a rider can take from a fall off an ATV or motorcycle.
“It’s also extremely important that the helmet be strapped to your head,” he said. “The first thing that happens when you’re in an accident, your helmet will fly off.”
n An approved set of goggles or safety eye wear to keep debris out of riders’ eyes.
n A long sleeve shirt or jersey to protect riders from abrasions from bushes and sticks. Farmer says some shirts have pads in the elbows and shoulders to help protect riders in case of a fall.
n A pair of gloves so that OHV users don’t cut their hands if they fall.
n A pair of riding pants. Farmer says to always wear long pants or actual riding pants that have padding.
n Over-the-ankle boots to minimize the possibility of experiencing a leg injury.
“If you wear those items right there, you’re probably going to be protected,” Farmer said. “The problem is, that we don’t ever see people with those on. I think it’s because they’re uninformed.”
Farmer said a lot of people in the area grew up using ATVs on farms and have never really thought about using safety equipment. Plus, only riders age 16 and younger in Tennessee are required to wear a helmet.
“You can’t legislate safety on people,” he said. “You have to put the right programs together so that they want to wear a helmet.”
Many children are eager to use safety equipment because of its bright colors. The MTRA passes out activity books and CD-ROM games to children that teach them the basic safety techniques for ATV riding. And since young riders make up a significant portion of ATV users, Farmer and fellow club members also recommend that parents purchase a size-appropriate OHV for their children.
“Never put a child on an adult-size ATV because their frame does not fit it and makes it very unstable,” Farmer said. “When you hit a bump it can throw them off.”
Before buying, Farmer suggests that people get in contact with a local riding club, like the MTRA, to discuss sizes and types of OHVs currently on the market.
Once someone has made an ATV purchase, Farmer says it’s important to take a safety course offered by the ATV Safety Institute.
“Everyone who goes says they learned something,” Farmer said.
When new riders have figured out the safety basics, they’re ready to hit the trail. The MTRA hosts about 10 family-friendly fun rides each year to trails made especially for OHV users. Buffalo Mountain ATV Trail is the closest. Its trailhead is located off Dry Creek Road. The MTRA also visits the I-81 Motorsports Park in Greeneville and the Hatfield & McCoy trails in West Virginia.
Farmer says the club pushes the issue of safety to keep people from getting injured, but also in an effort to eradicate the reputation that the sport is too dangerous. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ATV-related injuries nationwide have continued to stay above 100,000 since 2002, but the number of four-wheeled vehicle users also continues to rise, hitting 10.6 million in 2010
“If we don’t change the stigma and if we don’t actually start being strong proponents of safety issues, we are going to lose places to ride,” Farmer said.
For more information about the Mountain Trail Riders Association, visit www.mtntrailridersassoc.org. To learn more about joining the club or to request the safety activity booklet and CD-ROM for children, call 612-4091 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.