ATVs: What parents should know

Today’s guest blogger is Michael Wolf, MD, an attending sports medicine physician at the Orthopedic Center for Children at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

As the weather gets warmer, children will begin spending more time enjoying the outdoors, riding bikes, skateboards, scooters and sometimes even all-terrain vehicles or ATVs. While Pennsylvania law strictly prohibits ATV use on streets and highways, the restriction is often ignored by young thrill seekers– a problem that has become particularly prevalent in Philadelphia during the summer months. 

An ATV is a motorized vehicle that is designed to be used off-road or on dirt roads, not on paved streets or highways. Commonly referred to as 4-wheelers, quads, or off-road vehicles, these machines have powerful engines that allow them to reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, and can typically weigh more than 800 pounds. Due to their size and weight, these vehicles can be difficult to control in rough terrain or at high speeds, making it easy for collisions and rollovers to occur when not operated correctly.

In Pennsylvania, no child under age 8 can operate an ATV, and no child between 8 and 15 may operate an ATV unless on a parent’s land or in possession of a safety training certificate. However, it is strongly recommended that no child under the age of 16 operate an ATV, due to the dangers associated with these vehicles.

ATVs can pose extreme danger to children, causing serious injury or even death. In 2015, there were an estimated 97,200 ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries in the United States, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Some common injuries from ATVs include spinal cord injuries, bad burns or skin wounds, fractures, eye injuries, and concussions. However, these injuries can be prevented by adhering to the law and following proper safety guidelines.

If you choose to let your child operate an ATV, it is important to consider the following:

Prepare before the first ride

All children preparing to ride an ATV should complete a hands-on safety course in order to understand all of the vehicle’s functions, such as how to maintain proper speed and braking. In addition, families should have an emergency plan in place should an accident occur.

Wear proper safety gear

Children should always wear a helmet while riding an ATV. The helmet should be approved for ATV use, include a face shield and be the correct size. The child should also wear protective eye gear, gloves, boots, a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, and long pants.

Don’t ride alone

Children should never ride an ATV without a parent or guardian present to supervise. If you feel your child is old enough to ride alone, make sure they bring a friend who can take action in the event of a mishap. Additionally, it is important to ensure children follow guidelines for the recommended number of passengers for that specific vehicle.

Avoid streets and highways

Riding an ATV on streets or highway is unsafe and illegal in Pennsylvania. ATVs are designed to be operated on soft trails, not hard pavement. Urban terrains can be extremely dangerous with motor vehicles, narrow streets, concrete, pedestrians and various obstructions contributing to the many risk factors.

Check the forecast

Like a car, the risk of operating an ATV in bad weather increases the likelihood of an accident. Do not let children operate ATVs in rain, snow, or icy conditions. In addition, only allow children to ride during daylight hours with proper visibility.

The ATV Safety Information Center from the Consumer Product Safety Commission has more information on the potential risks of ATVs and safety tips.

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »