The weeks leading up to Memorial Day are a time when many people begin taking their all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) out of the garage for the summer, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It's also a time when the DNR reminds ATV owners and riders to ride safe and ride smart.
"The weather warms up, school is out, and it's the time of the year that most ATV accidents happen," said 2nd Lt. Leland Owens, DNR's recreational vehicle coordinator.
ATV accidents claimed 82 Minnesotans from 2007-2011. More than one-half of the fatal accidents involved an ATV rolling over. Four in 10 fatalities involved alcohol. Ages of those fatally injured ranged from 7 to 94 years old.
"ATVs are not babysitters," Owens said. "If you allow a youth to operate an ATV, make sure the person is trained, fits the ATV, and is constantly supervised by an adult."
Owens said the public's perception is that most ATV fatalities and accidents involve youths, but that's really not the case. Recent DNR statistics show a decline in youth-involved incidents, largely due to safety training requirements for those ages 15 and under.
"It's the adults – those who have not completed DNR ATV safety training – who are most at risk," Owens said.
More than 95 percent of those who died had not taken ATV safety training. State ATV laws require youth ages 12-15 and anyone born after July 1, 1987, who is 16 or older, to take ATV safety training before operating on public lands.
Owens encourages people to be defensive drivers while operating an ATV, since more than 65 percent of fatal ATV accidents took place in the road right-of-way. Another 25 percent of ATV fatalities happened on private property.
Owens urges caution to ditch riders as well. Ditches can be full of hazards such as telephone and power poles, guy wires, electrical and phone boxes, survey markers, culverts and mailboxes. Ditches along state and county roads are closed to ATVs in the agricultural zone from April 1 to Aug. 1. Owens suggests trailering machines to a designated ATV trail.
"When riding, stay on designated trails," Owens said, "Don't trespass on private property where you don't have permission to ride. And slow down, since ATVs become less stable at increased speeds.
"Always keep safety in mind," he said. "It just may save a life and ensure that each and every ATV rider returns home safely and ready for another ride."
For more information on ATV regulations go to http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/ohv/index.html .