Always let a responsible person know where you are going and when you will return. Take a map, tool kit, first aid kit, and a survival kit - and know how to use them. A cell phone and GPS can be helpful.
Download the Young Rider "Readiness Checklist" at www.atvsafety.org to help you evaluate whether your children are ready to ride.
Rider Safety Course
The ATV RiderCourse, developed by the ATV Safety Institute, provides hands-on training in the basic techniques for riding an all-terrain vehicle. The course also covers protective gear, local laws, finding places to ride, and environmental concerns. If you bought your ATV after Dec. 30,1986, you may be eligible for free training. Those not eligible for the free training may take the course for a small fee. The ATV RiderCourse is available nationwide. To sign up call: 1-800-887-2887 or go online to www.atvsafety.org.
Ride responsibly. Wear a helmet. Those two "rules of the road" for riders of off-highway vehicles could solve many of the accidents, injuries, and fatalities that occur because of inexperience and reckless driving.
"There is no substitute for not riding safely and responsibly," said Jimmy Simmons, OHV law enforcement program manager for Arizona Game and Fish Department, in a press release earlier this summer. "The increase in injuries and deaths is primarily a result of improper equipment use or negligence by riders."
OHV fatalities in the state more than tripled from eight in 2010 to 29 this past year. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 2011 also saw 409 non-fatal inpatient hospitalizations and 1,611 non-fatal emergency room visits because of OHV accidents.
Jay Tipton, PT, owner of Tipton Physical Therapy in Prescott Valley, said he sees a wide variety of OHV-injured patients come through his doors.
"It depends on the severity, but if you're looking at a head injury, that's difficult. As far as therapy, it depends on how much damage was done. A spinal injury or head, it can be pretty extensive. You're dealing with nerves and widespread muscle limitations," he said. "We mostly deal with something that's broken."
Tipton said he had one young patient in his 20s who drove over a ledge, and the quad landed on top of him. The patient broke his back, worked on strengthening it in rehab, but ended up needing fusion surgery a year or two down the road. Usually he sees injuries more along the lines of broken bones, rotator cuff tears, broken clavicles.
The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association offers safety tips for riders that include using protective gear to minimize injuries. A helmet tops the list, along with eye protection, gloves, riding boots and elbow, hip and knee pads. It also recommends that children use the proper sized all terrain vehicle for their age, size and experience. On an adult ATV, children younger than 16 are twice as likely to be injured as those riding size-appropriate youth ATVs, stated a July press release from AAA Arizona.
Arizona requires properly fitted helmets for all riders age 18 and younger and eye shields for operators of vehicles without a windshield. If a vehicle is not designed for passengers, the driver is prohibited from carrying one. This is particularly true with all-terrain vehicles shared by family members and friends during outings.
"Proper ATV riding techniques require operators to shift their weight and change position in order to maintain control of the machine. Carrying a passenger can impede proper riding technique, drastically changing how the vehicle responds," states the AG&F brochure on OHV Laws and Places to Ride. "Many rollover accidents can be attributed to the improper carrying of passen¬gers on an ATV."
In April, a Gilbert grandmother loaded four young grandchildren onto an ATV meant for one person, drove around a dirt lot, and ended up crashing into an irrigation ditch. All four children - ages 3, 3, 4 and 5 - and the grandmother ended up in the hospital. The grandmother sustained head injuries - none of them was wearing a helmet, the AG&F report stated.
Judy Baum, director of therapy operations at Mountain Valley Rehabilitation Hospital in Prescott Valley, said the consequences of not wearing a helmet, using illegal drugs and alcohol, and poor judgment can be catastrophic.
"Spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries can be quite complex. They are life-changing types of injuries," she said. "We've treated patients here that have been injured on ATVs with a diagnosis of spinal cord injury that could be in a wheelchair for the remainder of their life."
Even when patients' mobility isn't affected by an accident, she often sees significant cognitive deficits in patients with brain injuries.
"High level thinking skills, what we call executive functions, such as ability to think, problem solve, manage business activities and finances can be compromised. The entire family is impacted."
Several websites, including the Arizona Game and Fish (www.azgfd.gov), provide a plethora of information. Atvsafety.org offers a Readiness Checklist to help determine whether operating an ATV riding is appropriate for your child, and other information. Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (www.rohva.org) is another educational website.