COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Over 500 Ohio youth and their parents are the focus of an Ohio State University Extension project involving education and proper operation of ATVs.
The ATV (all-terrain vehicle) is increasing in popularity throughout the state as the vehicle of choice for trail riding, hunting, farming, and other recreational uses. However, improper use and lack of safety are resulting in numerous injuries and death. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, between 1982 and 2006 (the most recent data available), Ohio was ranked 12th in the number of ATV-related deaths. Over 85 deaths alone occurred between 2003 and 2006.
"The highest percentage of deaths occurs in the first 30 days of buying and riding the ATV. So clearly lack of experience is the issue," said Randall Reeder, an OSU Extension agricultural engineer and coordinator of statewide ATV training programs. "Users don't perceive the ATV to be as dangerous as it can be."
Through a National 4-H Council grant, OSU Extension will hold programs throughout 2008 to train ATV users on basic safety guidelines and proper operation. Youth ages 8-18 are the main focus of the programs, as a third of injuries and deaths occur with children.
"The goal of the training programs is to increase the exposure level of the potential dangers of ATVs and to help prevent injuries," said Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension's state safety leader. "There is no standardized public policy, no guidelines to give to parents. People buy these vehicles with no knowledge of how to properly use them."
The statewide training programs are part of a multi-state, $80,000 project, to train a total of 3,000 youth, their parents, and other adults by the end of the year. The other states involved in the project include Arkansas, Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon and North Carolina.
In addition to training ATV users, OSU Extension will use its share of the grant money to increase the number of certified ASI (ATV Safety Institute) instructors among Ohio 4-H volunteers.
"We see the potential for 4-H as a national organization to train young people, especially those in rural areas where ATV usage is the highest," said Jepsen, who also holds an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "ASI instructors conduct their own ATV training, charging a fee of $75 to $125 per person. Through this 4-H grant, we can offer the same four-hour training at no cost to the individual."
Jepsen said the training programs will teach users what to wear when riding an ATV, how to ride the vehicle and the places most appropriate to ride an ATV.
"The training programs will teach you how to overcome obstacles on the trail, how to ride on rough terrain and slopes, how to maneuver and shift your body, and what safety gear to wear," said Jepsen. "The training offers a hands-on approach to witnessing the cause and effect of handling ATVs in all types of weather conditions."
Reeder said there are a number of reasons why many ATV riders fail to make safety their No. 1 priority:
• The perception that ATVs are not dangerous. "ATVs are often thought of as toys," said Reeder, who also holds an appointment with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "Or, at the very least, thought of as being no more dangerous than, say, a riding lawnmower."
• The misconception that the long seat is designed for more than one rider. "ATVs should only have one person on them," said Reeder. "The long seat is designed that way so riders can shift their weight when going up or down hilly terrain."
• The idea that ATVs are safe to ride on pavement. "ATVs should never be ridden on pavement," said Reeder. "The design of the ATV is such that it doesn't turn like you normally expect, or in some cases not at all, on paved surfaces."
• The idea that ATVs are "one size fits all." According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 30 percent of all injuries and deaths occur in youth under 16, and riding the wrong ATV is a contributing factor. "A small rider on a full-size ATV, even if all other precautions are taken, can be just as dangerous as not following safety guidelines," said Reeder. "Would you allow someone to drive a car if he or she can't reach the pedals?"
OSU Extension's ATV safety campaign will be a program highlight at this year's Ohio State University Farm Science Review, Sept. 16-18 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. The program will include, among other things, educational material on how to safely operate an ATV.
For more information on OSU Extension ATV training programs and where they will be held throughout the state, contact Kathy Henwood, OSU Extension ATV safety program assistant, at (614) 292-0622 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.