As the father of two boys who were born with wheels where their toes should be, I clearly understand the importance of diligent, responsible parenting.

With one son riding his bicycle without training wheels at the ripe old age of three and the other riding a toy electric quad around the backyard track by himself before he could even walk; I know the safety of my children is up to me. What I teach them now will be with them for the rest of their lives. It’s not like a video game where you can simply hit reset when you crash.

Every year off-road recreation becomes more popular as I see more families choosing to spend time in the dunes, desert and trails with their kids riding ATVs, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles. The use of ATVs in the United States has been steadily increasing over the last decade according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) annual report.  As these numbers increase it becomes more important to keep our kids safe while riding ATVs, and to educate them about environmental impact and responsibility.

Beyond learning how to ride safely, kids need learn how to take care of the trails and riding areas so they will be there for generations to come.Beyond learning how to ride safely, kids need learn how to take care of the trails and riding areas so they will be there for generations to come.

While we spend more time riding ATVs as a family we must remember that safety, common sense and rider education are key to providing a safe experience for children and newer adult riders recreating with us on public and private land. ATVs are a lot of fun for all ages and can be a very versatile tool. They can also help create a certain level of respect for others and for nature, especially in children since they are highly impressionable.

That respect will also go a long way in helping to keep areas open for them to use when they grow up. There are certain groups of people out there that are doing everything they can to reduce or eliminate the use of ATVs from any and all public land. When people take ATVs out and trash the areas they ride in it just gives these groups more ammunition to use in court to get areas closed to ATVs.

This guy won't be breaking any land speed records, but he looks like he's having fun.This guy won’t be breaking any land speed records, but he looks like he’s having fun.

One would expect that as the number of ATVs being used annually increases, the number of injuries and deaths has also gone up. It’s pretty much a given that an increase in the usage of just about anything will be followed by an increase in incidents related to that particular activity. What you might not expect (nor hear about from some activist groups) is that the rate at which injuries are happening has gone down over the same 10-year period.

In fact, the actual number of fatalities involving ATVs has reduced by nearly 100 each year for the last three years in which the CPSC has data ( through 2006). Sadly, the rate at which children are being injured is still going up. These statistics can be found in the 2006 CPSC Report on ATVs linked above.

Though the rate of children being injured on ATVs is climbing, the number of fatalities is on the decline.Though the rate of children being injured on ATVs is climbing, the number of fatalities is on the decline.

There are a few simple things you can (and should) do that will help keep your children safe while riding ATVs.  First and foremost, make sure your kids always wear a helmet and other protective gear. Studies show an alarming trend in head and other injuries while not wearing proper equipment.

Make sure your kids ride the appropriate sized ATV the way it was intended to be ridden. Allowing a child or inexperienced rider to ride a bigger ATV is highly dangerous and irresponsible. In some cases it has become criminal. Your kid’s size and experience level should dictate how big and fast of a machine he or she should be riding. It takes skill to ride an ATV. It also takes body mass and physical strength very similar to riding a motorcycle.

Kids are always going to want to get bigger and faster quads, but it is up to the parents to make sure kids are riding appropriate sized ATVs.Kids are always going to want to get bigger and faster quads, but it is up to the parents to make sure kids are riding appropriate sized ATVs.

Don’t ride double or on pavement. ATVs aren’t really meant to be All Terrain as the name implies. Those big, under inflated balloon tires provide very unstable conditions on pavement and when riding with passengers. Something that is very deceiving about an ATV is that it has a very big seat. It’s so big that it practically invites you to take along a passenger. The fact is that the seats are so big because you need to be able to move around on the quad to shift your weight. It helps you control the ATV. It’s not big so you can take a passenger with you.

So how do we protect our kids from ATVs?  The same way we protect them from riding bicycles, playing football, snowboarding and many other activities that can be very dangerous when done irresponsibly or incorrectly. We protect them by providing them with adequate safety gear and training along with environmental responsibility.

Proper safety gear and respect for the equipment is a must.Proper safety gear and respect for the equipment is a must.

It will not only benefit your child’s safety now and for their entire life, it will also help change the misleading and increasingly destructive image currently being painted by some groups.

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