Biggest Killer of ATV Riders

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are becoming more popular every year. So, too, are accidents. Several hundred riders die and over 100,000 are injured annually. The causes are varied from defects in equipment to when nature isn’t cooperative. But by far, the biggest cause is rider error.

Rider error can be in the form of lack of proper gear. The helmet is the most important, yet often riders presume a ball cap will shield them from harm. Goggles prevent eye injuries from debris and branches. Long sleeves and gloves prevent abrasions.

Many riders have never looked at the warning stickers on the fenders which warn them not to carry two riders unless the ATV was designed for it. Having the back end overloaded is a sure way to precipitate a backflip while going up a hill. Or they will ride on roadways and be struck by an auto. Or they will be drinking alcohol and poor judgment will prevail.

Many times children are on ATVs (sometimes called quads) that are too large or powerful for them to handle. They are even more prone than adults are to attempt extreme maneuvers or climbing a slope or traversing unstable terrain that is unsafe. Too often, this results in tragedy.

Much of this can be remedied by taking safety courses which are offered free by the manufacturers upon the purchase of a new quad. Surprisingly, only about one-third of new purchasers take up the offer.

As to actually killing riders, there is one situation that happens to overwhelmingly cause the most deaths. That is a rollover. Quads can weigh from 350 to over 900 pounds. One on top of a rider can easily pin them in sand or mud, or even under water or against a tree. But many times, they get a crushed skull or broken bones or spine.

One might think this will usually only happen if the rider is hot-dogging along a narrow trail, but that thought is wrong. In fact, 75% of all major accidents happen loading and unloading from a pickup bed or high trailer. Why is this?

Usually ramps are used for the quad’s wheels to travel on going up or down. On a trailer, it’s easy to move the wrong way slightly and come off where there is no ramp. Or, many times the ramps are short and the pickup tailgate is high. This means a steep angle of climb which is difficult. But even when longer ramps are used, there can be a problem.

What happens is that as the quad goes up the ramp, the wheels try to spin the ramp back away from the tailgate. When this happens, there is a space at the top of the ramps and they fall down. At that moment, the quad’s front wheels may be on the tailgate and the rear wheels fall causing the quad to do a backflip-often landing on top of the rider. If only one ramp falls, the quad falls back and sideways-not much easier on the rider.

When the quad is being unloaded, it is being backed off the pickup and as its weight (remember, you are adding to the weight since you are on the seat) is transferred to the ramps, the tailgate rises and allows a gap at the top of the ramp. Then the ramp falls off. Now if the rider is way down on the ramp and close to the ground, then maybe no foul. But if the rider is high up still, or comes off the side of the ramp, then, again, the quad flips backward and/or sideways and lands on the rider. And, let me tell you, even if you aren’t squashed, you still get quite a thrill!

The easiest way to prevent this loading/unloading hazard is pretty simple, although amazingly often disregarded. It’s to use retention straps or chain to hold the ramps against the tailgate. The most effective way is to position them near the top portion of the ramp and as straight back to the truck, or bumper, as possible. If you are using nylon straps, you should check them regularly to make sure they aren’t stress separating.

It is also a good habit to be wearing a helmet during this maneuver, too, for obvious reason.

Remember, three-fourths of all serious injuries are caused loading and unloading, so if you aren’t on a trailer close to the ground where you can just push your quad off safely, then use the straps.

Accidents can sure ruin your day.

Ron Kelley

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