All-Terrain Vehicles: Fun or Really Dangerous?

Well, I have no doubt that all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)—also known as quads, quad bikes, three wheelers, or four wheelers—are very much fun. But they are also extremely dangerous.

An ATV is a vehicle that travels on low-pressure tires and is designed to handle a wider variety of terrain than most other vehicles. ATVs have a seat that is straddled by the operator, along with handlebars for steering control. Seeing young children riding on ATVs has been one of my pet peeves for a long time. Even when I was just getting started in pediatrics, I had several patients critically injured while driving or just riding on an ATV.

I have never recommended keeping our kids in protective bubbles, but I do think that some activities—even if they are fun—are just not safe and should not be allowed by parents until their kids are old enough to do them safely.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Children who are too young to have a driver’s license should not be allowed to operate all-terrain vehicles. Children are involved in about 30 percent of all ATV-related deaths and injuries that require treatment in the emergency department.
  • ATVs are particularly dangerous for children younger than age 16 years because the nervous systems and decision-making faculties of these kids are not yet fully developed.

That said, if a parent is still determined to put their child astride an ATV, please remember these guidelines.

  • Don’t ride double. Passengers can make ATVs unstable and difficult to control, and passengers are frequently injured when riding ATVs. Most ATVs are designed to carry one person only—the driver.
  • All ATV riders should take a hands-on, safety and training course.
  • All riders should wear a helmet, eye protection, sturdy shoes (no flip-flops), and protective, reflective clothing. Appropriate helmets are those designed for motorcycle use, not bicycle use, and they should include either safety visors or face shields that protect the eyes. Wearing a helmet may prevent or reduce the severity of head and eye injuries.  
  • ATVs lack the common safety equipment found on all cars and trucks designed for street use. ATV tires are not designed to grip on pavement, so operators should never ride on paved roads.
  • Parents should never permit their children to ride ATVs or other off-road vehicles after dark or on the street.
  • Flags, reflectors, and lights should be used to make these vehicles more conspicuous and visible to drivers of automobiles.
  • Drivers of recreational vehicles should never drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or even some prescription medicines. Parents should set an example for their children in this regard.

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