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Wild West Sports highlights safety issues when riding ATVs

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is defined as a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure tires, having a seat to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering. ATVs are subdivided into two types.  

Type I vehicles are intended for use by a single operator and no passenger. Type II ATVs are intended for use by an operator and a passenger, equipped with a seating position behind the operator.

Every year, many people are injured or killed in accidents when riding ATVs. Most accidents occur because the ATV is not being used as intended and/or is being ridden in an unsafe manner. Each person who rides an ATV, either as the driver or a passenger, should always follow rules for safe use.


Wes Tracy, a technician and sales consultant at Wild Side Sports – an ATV dealership in Salmon, Idaho, often has customers who are new to riding ATVs. He gives advice regarding what type of machine might fit them and their needs best, and explains safety rules and guidelines.

“We recommend using a helmet and wearing long pants and not shorts,” he says.

Clothing should be comfortable but cover the rider’s body to give some protection if they go through brush or tumble off. 

“There are also different positions to utilize while riding, to always be in balance with the machine,” he explains.   

Riders don’t want to cause it to be over-balanced and tip over when going around a corner or up a steep hill, for instance. To help keep the center of gravity where it should be, lean forward going up a hill and lean into the turn and not to the outside of it, he mentions.

“Don’t ride double, unless the machine is specifically designed for a passenger. And to be legal, don’t ignore the age limits. There are stickers on all machines; riders must be a certain age to be running this unit,” says Tracy.  

Some machines are too big and powerful for a young person to handle. Also, many young people don’t have enough caution and responsibility to ride wisely and safely.

“Even though a 15- or 16-year-old kid may be as big as any adult, they often don’t have the wisdom and attitude to ride an ATV safely and may try things they shouldn’t,” says Tracy.  “We cannot sell a unit to a young person.” 

“We also want to know if they are going to put it in the back of a pickup to haul it somewhere to go ride,” he says. “There are different ramps that can be used to load and unload, and those need to be safe, as well.” 

“There used to be a rider trainer course here locally a person could take,” he adds.  “People didn’t have to take it in order to buy an ATV, but some manufacturers would offer a reward to people who took it, giving them a certificate for merchandise as an incentive to take a training course. One of the local dealerships had a course set up and had someone give the training course.”

State rules

Some states are stricter with the rules a person has to comply with to purchase or ride an ATV.  

“They require riders to take the state-approved safety course and in some states, ATVs need turn signals, mirrors and horns on the machine to be safer on roads,” he says. “In most states, ATVs are not legal to drive on a highway – just on back roads and trails.”

“Know the rules for the state you reside in,” he adds. “None of the ATVs and side-by-sides are actually legal to be on a highway. If the speed limit is posted 45 miles or higher, riders should not be driving that fast. Riders will definitely get a traffic violation ticket.”

Ranchers sometimes have to be on the highway with ATVs for a short distance to get from one part of their property to another, even though it is not legal. Many of them drive along the edge of the highway or in the borrow pit so they are not actually out on the road, trying not to be illegal or a potential hazard on the highway.

“In Montana, ATV owners must have turn signals, mirrors and a horn to be legal on their mountain roads,” says Tracy.  

The machine makes enough noise so riders often can’t hear a vehicle coming up from behind – especially if someone is wearing a helmet – so it’s good to have mirrors, he explains. 

“We suggest putting mirrors on ATVs, especially the side-by-sides, so people can see what is going on around them,” Tracy says. 

On ranches, many kids grow up riding ATVs and probably start driving them at a younger age than recommended. Hopefully, the adults they learn from are a good influence and teach them proper safety rules, he concludes. 

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@

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