Safety first! Proper training and safety gear are essential for ATV riders. Photo courtesy of University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
Category: Features

Staying safe during ATV adventures

While they are fun to drive and useful for work, All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) can also be dangerous, especially if proper safety protocols are not followed.

“Always wear a helmet. It doesn’t matter if you have ridden one for 40 years or it’s your first time riding one,” says Jesse Bocksnick, Arkansas 4-H outdoor skills instructor.

A good rule of thumb is to replace your helmet every five years, he adds.

Bocksnick teaches a “hands-on” rider ATV course through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. He says allowing a child to ride an adult machine is a big mistake.

Statistics of ATV injuries from Arkansas Childrens Hospital.

“They put young kids on adult-sized machines, and on top of that, they forget Rule No.1: You need to wear a helmet,” he explains. “They put their youth on machines that are too powerful, too heavy, too large for them to even physically handle.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no one under the age of 16 operate or ride an ATV.

“You have to be 16 years old to operate an adult-sized machine,” Bocksnick says. “What people don’t understand is, the machine is a rider-active machine — especially four-wheelers — they’re rider-active machines, which means you use your body weight and positioning to make four-wheelers handle properly.”

He stresses that people should always follow ATV age restrictions. Some manufacturers make four-wheelers for ages 6 and up with parental controls. Still, Bocksnick says, they will not train anyone under age 10.

A list of safety gear to wear along with helmets includes goggles, gloves, long-sleeve shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes (preferably without laces).

“In a perfect world, you would even go as far as getting the full riding gear, and that would be all the stuff I mentioned plus a chest protector, a kidney belt, actual riding boots and riding pants — all of those are cushioned, and they’re usually super tough because road rash is a real thing, even in grass and gravel,” Bocksnick says.

Part of the training Bocksnick offers includes emphasizing proper safety protocols, making turns using body weight, learning how to ride over obstacles and navigating various types of trails.

He says, “Most kids don’t understand that if you’re not riding properly, you might hit a bump, and it will toss you off the machine like a bucking bull.”

Before heading out on the trail, Bocksnick advises telling someone where you’re going and for how long, in case you cannot call 911 during an emergency.

Additional resources can be found at, the website of the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute.