Behavior & Development • Jun 25, 2015

ATV- Is your kid really ready to be on it?

iStock_000008089874_SmallWith summer break in full swing, fun activities for the kids outside the house are surging. But sadly, so are the number of accident and injury related emergency room visits. Just in the last 2 weeks, I have seen so many all-terrain vehicle (ATV) related accidents. Every year, more and more families are devastated by deaths and injuries caused by ATVs. According to the AAP, children account for about one-third of the 130,000 to 150,000 ATV-related emergency department visits each year in the United States and one-quarter of the more than 800 ATV-related deaths. Head trauma is the leading cause of ATV-associated death and disability. Is your child really old enough and mature enough to drive or ride on that ATV?

Research shows that fast speeds, lack of helmet use and multiple riders piling into the same vehicle are among the top reasons why thousands of American children are injured in ATV crashes annually, according to new research. The epidemic of ATV-related injuries can be attributed, at least in part, to these vehicles’ increasing popularity. An ATV is an inherently stable automobile with a large chassis and a high center of gravity. These vehicles can go 80 miles an hour on a flat surface, but there is no harness, seat belt or cab for protection Add to that lack of consistent state regulations about the age limit of the drivers, seat belt and helmet safety regulations; it becomes a recipe for disaster on wheels.

Parents need to know that ATVs are not toys, but motor vehicles which can weigh more than 500 pounds. Unlike motor vehicles, they lack safety features such as airbags. If you wouldn’t let your 10-year-old drive a car, then why would you let them operate an ATV? The regulations surrounding children driving ATVs are very inconsistent across the US. It ranges from no regulations at all, to regulations as strict as those which govern regular automobile use. Did you know that in states like Texas and New Mexico, the youngest a person can ride ATVs is 6! In most states you can’t legally get a driver’s license until you’re at least 16 or 17 years old, for reasons related to maturity about driving. If you’re younger than that, you probably lack the physical and intellectual maturity to safely operate an automobile. So, why are there no consistent regulations about ATVs?

The AAP does not recommend ATV use by children under age 16. According to a study published in Pediatrics in July 2013, although many states have regulations governing children’s use of ATVs, their effectiveness in reducing injuries is unclear. Broader use of known effective safety measures, including prohibiting children aged ≤15 years from riding adult-sized ATVs, always wearing a helmet while riding, not riding on paved roads, and not riding as or carrying a passenger, could additionally reduce ATV-related injuries among children. A study published in the July/August 2012 issue of The Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics concluded that ATV-related spine injuries in children and adolescents are high-energy injuries with a high rate of associated spine and non-spine injuries. ATV-related spine injuries are different from other ATV-related injuries in children in that they are more common in older children and females. Musculoskeletal injuries are the most common ATV-related injuries in children.

The AAP advises parents who allow their child to ride an ATV to follow these safety measures:

  • Make sure your child wears a motorcycle (not bicycle)-style helmet that fits snugly.
  • Look for DOT or Snell ratings on the box. Never purchase a helmet that is too big for your child so he or she can “grow into it.”
  • Suit up your child with padded, reflective clothing and protective eyewear.
  • Do not allow children to ride on the street or between dusk and dawn.
  • Allow only one rider on the ATV at a time.
  • Always supervise children on ATVs.
  • If you are buying an ATV, choose one with a seat belt, roll-bar, engine covers and a speed-limiting device.

Missouri state regulations about ATVs are

Minimum Age Requirement: To ride an ATV unsupervised, the operator must be at least 16 years old unless riding on land owned by the operator’s parent or legal guardian.

Helmet and/or Eye Protection Requirement: Riders under age 18 are required to wear an approved helmet.

Passenger Prohibitions: ATV operators may carry a passenger only if the vehicle is designed to carry more than one occupant, unless the vehicle is being used for an excepted activity such as agriculture.

To find the laws about ATV use in your state, visit For information about ATV training courses in your area, contact the ATV Safety Institute at (800) 887-2887 or log on to Ultimately, injury prevention depends on the people behind the wheel. It’s up to the parents to make responsible decisions about the use of these vehicles and allow their kids to operate them appropriately.