Wreck brings light to safety while riding ATVs

After two teenagers were seriously injured during an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident last month, the S.C. Highway Patrol and a local ATV retailer have some tips to keep your ride safe and smooth.

The accident happened April 26 on Hutto Pond Road. The two teenage victims were transported to the hospital with “serious” injuries after the ATV they were riding was struck by a pickup on Hutto Pond Road last month, the S.C. Highway Patrol reports.

The 2006 Dodge pickup was traveling west on Hutto Pond Road on April 26 when the ATV and its passengers came out of a private driveway onto Hutto Pond, pulling in front of the pickup, according to Lance Cpl. Judd Jones, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol. The pickup struck the ATV.

There was no indication of the speed of either vehicle, Jones said.

No charges have been filed, but Jones said the driver of the ATV was listed at fault. The statuses of the ATV passengers were not available, and the Highway Patrol could not release the victims' names because they are both minors.

According to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were about 11,600 ATV-related fatalities between 1982 and 2011, with 327 fatalities in 2007 alone. That number is down from 590 fatalities in 2010, 684 in 2009 and 741 in 2008.

Jones said he expects ATV-related accidents to increase as summer gets into full swing.

'Chandler's Law'

The S.C. All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Act lays out several restrictions on ATV use. Among them: A person 15 or younger may not operate an ATV without a safety helmet and eye protection; a person 15 and younger who operates an ATV must have a safety certificate indicating successful completion of an ATV safety course approved by the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Instititute; and it is illegal for a parent or legal guardian to allow a person younger than 6 to operate an ATV.

In addition to ATVs not being allowed on roadways, Jones said the vehicles themselves aren't designed for roads.

“The main thing is, people take it for granted and just get on without knowing the full potential of what can happen if they're not using precautions,” he said. “Some people are not sure about whether they can be ridden on the roadway. The law is the biggest thing people have an issue with concerning ATVs.”

Regarding its enforcement on private land, the law states: “A law enforcement officer enforcing the provisions of this section in regard to private lands must have probable cause, based on a plain view observation or incident to an investigation resulting from all-terrain vehicle accident, to believe a violation of this section occurred before he may enter upon private land to charge a violation of this section.”

'Rider-active machines'

Marsha Hopkins, owner of Aiken Motorcycle Sales & Service, stresses to customers that most ATVs are meant for one passenger only.

“They're rider-active machines, meaning you have to move your body weight around,” she said. “They're off-road use only. They are not street legal machines.”

Hopkins said people often think it's OK to drive an ATV on the road if they're only going a short distance.

“They're not even meant to ride on a dirt road,” she said. “Even though a child may ride your tractor, he may ride the big riding lawn mower, he may drive your truck around in the back field – that doesn't mean he can handle an ATV because it's a rider-active machine. They need to be mentally capable and also physically capable of handing the machine, and that's why there's age requirements.”

Hopkins said her store has a set of topics and items regarding safety that must be addressed if someone is considering purchasing an ATV.

“The first thing we need to find out on the ATV is the age of the person the ATV is for, and then we need to physically show them the only models that are applicable for that age,” she said.

ATVs are limited in their speeds, depending on the age a machine is targeted toward. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an ATV for ages 6 to 9 has a maximum speed of 15 mph; an ATV for ages 10 to 13 has a maximum speed of 30 mph; for ages 14- to 15, 38 mph; and for ages 16 and older, there are no speed limits.

Each ATV has a sticker indicating the age for which it is designed. Hopkins said she doesn't believe ATVs are hazardous as long as they are ridden “with respect” and the appropriately-aged rider.

“They handle differently from other vehicles, including cars and motorcycles,” she said. “You have to be rider-active to ride an ATV. You've got to know how to shift your body weight, and, if you don't know how to shift your body weight and you start going too fast and riding beyond your skill level, that's when accidents happen.”

Before you hop on ...

In addition to helmets, Hopkins said they recommend a variety of other safety equipment for ATV riders, including riding boots for ankle protection, gloves and eye protection, as well as long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“I would also recommend a chest protector or shoulder pads. Depending on what type of ATV and what type of usage, it's not a bad idea,” she said. Their store sells all these items in children and adult sizes.

Also, an ATV safety course is offered with the purchase of an ATV for the age-appropriate rider.

“In other words, if you buy an ATV that's for ages 16 and older, no one under the age of 16 can train on that ATV,” Hopkins said.

The store also has a list of the “ATV Safety Institute's Golden Rules” that customers must sign to complete a purchase. The rules include wearing proper safety equipment, never riding on paved roads, never riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol, riding an ATV that's appropriate for your age and supervising riders younger than 16.

Hopkins said a customer must initial after reading each rule.

For more information about ATVs, safety and regulations, visit the ATV Safety Institute at www.ATVsafety.org.

• Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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