Off-road safety

The return of warmer weather can mean the return of ATVs to area trails, and while riding off-road on trails may be a joy, there are tips all riders should follow about staying safe.

ATV safety has more to do than just wearing protective gear, which should include a helmet: it is also learning how to properly maneuver the vehicle and knowing how different terrain affects the vehicle.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that 382 deaths occurred involving ATV accidents in Ohio during 2009 to 2012, but that number is subject to change as reports are still going into the office. Since 1982, 12,391 people have been killed in ATV accidents nationwide.

On Saturday, Warren High School senior Danielle Church, 18, was killed in an ATV accident at 1195 Graham Road, Cutler. The ATV, a 2009 Polaris RZR 800, flipped on its side, ejecting Church and her half-brother, Stephen Sewell, 23, who was the driver. Church sustained severe head trauma and died at Marietta Memorial Hospital.

Sheriff Larry Mincks said he couldn’t say for sure if either rider was wearing safety gear at the time of the accident but the early indication is no.

“I don’t believe either one of them was wearing a helmet or seatbelts,” he said. “That’s our indication right now.”

Sewell was treated and released at the hospital for injuries received during the crash. Mincks said the crash is still under investigation. Funeral services for Church will be held on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Warren High School.

Chris Penrose, Ohio State University Extension educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources for Morgan County, stressed the importance of protective gear, especially helmets.

“If you wear a helmet, you decrease the risk of a fatal head injury by 42 percent and lower the risk of non-fatal head injury by 64 percent,” he said.

Carl Purvis, spokesman for CPSC, said that every year since 2004, more than 800 ATV related deaths have occurred. Another 130,000 people have been injured.

“We want (riders) to go out and have fun, and come back and be able to tell everyone about the fun they had,” Purvis said.

He said one thing is of major importance.

“Don’t ever run an ATV on a paved road,” he said, adding that ATVs are designed to grip terrain, which becomes difficult on pavement, and drivers are more likely to have an accident and collide with other vehicles.

“We encourage people to go out and check with local laws,” he said. “In some states, it’s illegal to drive on a paved road.”

According the Ohio State Highway Patrol, it is illegal to drive an ATV on paved roads in Ohio unless it is registered and accompanied by a “slow moving vehicle” sign which can signify farm use.

Likewise, Amber Purcell, manager of special projects with the ATV Safety Institute, said driving on paved roads is a definite no-no. She also said that another important thing is riding double.

“We never condone riding double on an ATV,” she said. “ATVs are rider active and (extra weight) greatly affects maneuverability.”

Purcell said something to be careful of is the age of those riding on or driving an ATV.

“If you have a child on an ATV, they should be supervised,” she said.

Purvis said that 90 percent of injuries that occur with ATVs involve children under 16, because they lack the developmental skills to safely operate one.

Penrose agreed.

“So often we see a 12-year-old out riding an ATV,” he said. “They haven’t developed mental or physical skills to be able to operate them.”

Purvis said those younger than 16 shouldn’t even be near an ATV.

“With a child younger than six years of age, we urge parents not to let them on an ATV at all,” Purvis added. He said that most ATVs have labels that suggest the youngest age an operator should be for that model of ATV.

Penrose talks to students and adults about ATV safety. He said he usually speaks to 200 to 300 people a year. He said most of his talks involve going over proper gear and how to properly mount and dismount and how to change weight distribution for going up hills, as well as stopping effectively. He said anyone can call him to schedule a talk about ATV safety.

Purcell said proper gear involves a helmet certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) or Snell, long sleeves and pants, boots that cover the ankles and goggles to protect the eyes.

Mincks said getting proper training is imperative.

“It’s important to know there are courses out there to learn how to properly operate (an ATV), just like a motorcycle,” he said. “There are lots of programs available. It’s important you know how to operate one and (realize) they can be dangerous.”

In fact, an ATV safety course will be held this week at Reno Raceway, located on Jett Hill Road. Purcell said the class starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and will last four-and-a-half hours. There are still spots available.

Purcell said that safety is key for having a safe, enjoyable day riding.

“Even just one ATV accident is one too many for us,” she said. “It’s crucial for people to remember it’s a fun way to recreate…(given) you have the proper equipment and have had the training…Our focus is everybody’s first ride should be an ATV RiderCourse.”