Youth riding ATV with protective helmet

As many parents in rural America know, children and teens see all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility task vehicles (UTVs) as ways to get more work done and have a lot of fun on a farm or ranch. But without proper training and safe riding practices, these machines can pose risks to young operators. It’s something Charles Jennissen, MD, knows well. 

The pediatric emergency medicine physician with the University of Iowa Department of Emergency Medicine and the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm. His personal experience is a big reason why he is a champion for ATV/UTV safety.

"I grew up on a dairy farm in central Minnesota. My first cousin and another neighbor child were on an ATV one day. Neither was wearing a helmet. They drove out of a farm driveway and onto a public road and were hit by a pickup," said Jennissen, who helped write recommendations on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics for safe ATV/UTV use for youth. "Both were killed on the scene. Their deaths are why I'm so interested in ATV/UTV safety."

Risks specific to younger ATV/UTV riders

Riding off-highway vehicles (OHVs) like ATVs/UTVs is a major attraction for children and teens on farms and ranches. But the machines can be just as hazardous as they are tempting. Data from the Consumer Federation of America show there were 201 OHV fatalities in the U.S. in the first half of the year. One in four of these deaths were children under age 16. The victims were wearing helmets in only three of the 201 fatalities.

The hazards don’t end there. According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, there are more than 11,000 non-fatal ATV/UTV-related injuries in children and teens every year. Of those injuries, 15% require a hospital stay. Concussions and head injuries both make up around one third of all ATV/UTV-related injuries in children and teens. To Jennissen, the numbers add up to a clear, simple message: Wear a helmet.

“More kids under age 16 die from ATV/UTV-related events than from bicycle crashes. This has been true since the early 2000s,” said Jennissen, himself a UTV owner who is adamant about educating his own family on the dangers of the machine. “We talk a lot about helmets and safety with bicycles. But as health care providers and parents, we don't talk as much about ATVs/UTVs. That has to change.”

Youth ATV/UTV safety is multi-faceted

Jennissen said building a safety culture around ATVs/UTVs on farms and ranches starts by allowing your children to ride only ATVs that are age appropriate. Every manufacturer places a label on ATVs displaying the minimum age to ride and an adult should always supervise. To minimize injury risk, he also recommends young riders to:

  • Always wear a helmet
  • Never allow passengers on ATVs
  • Only ride at safe, appropriate speeds
  • Keep ATVs/UTVs off public roadways
  • Always wear your seat belt or safety harness on UTVs

“These things are just basic critical rules for riding ATVs/UTVs that are often not followed,” Jennissen said. “As a parent, when you make the decision to allow your child to ride an ATV or UTV, make sure you're following basic safety rules to help decrease their risk of injury or death.”

Become an ATV/UTV safety champion

ATV/UTV safety and educating everyone in rural America of the hazards of the machines are huge efforts for us at Nationwide. Talk to your local Nationwide Farm Certified agent to find out how you can advance that work as a champion for ATV/UTV safety with your family or in your local community, and to make sure you understand the importance of farm ATV/UTV insurance.

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