Follow safety rules before gearing up for ATV fun

Navigating trails is fun — navigating them on an all-terrain vehicle is even more fun, especially when you do it right.

Being prepared for an ATV ride includes knowing how to operate the machine safely and wearing the appropriate gear. Through a partnership with Polaris Industries and the ATV Safety Institute, Scouts can learn to ride at select BSA council camps through a rider course from a licensed instructor. The courses include no more than eight riders, so they can receive individualized instruction on how to properly ride.

“ATVs are not toys; they are not motorized babysitters,” says Thomas Yager, vice president of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. “While discovery learning is wonderful for some things, it’s not the best type of learning to apply to ATVs. That’s the role of instructors.”

Mishaps and injuries often come when riders are not following the ATV Safety Institute’s Golden Rules,such as riding an ATV not right for their age or allowing passengers on single-rider vehicles. Since its inception 37 years ago, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America has promoted the safe and responsible use of ATVs.

“We do training for the Scouts and the public, but also agencies, military, law enforcement and search-and-rescue,” Yager says. “We can adjust the instruction and degree of difficulty based on the group.”

Licensed trainers go through four days of training, mastering not only how to use a vehicle with hands-on exercises, but also how to effectively teach others how to use them. By that point, riders should tread lightly by staying on designated trails.

Certain ATVs are designed for riders as young as 6 — riders that young shouldn’t be operating an adult-sized ATV. For Scouts, riders must be at least age 14 to be in the Scouts BSA ATV Program, and any rider younger than 16 must be supervised. They must also ride at BSA-approved, council-run ATV programs. Participants, as well as any ATV user at camp, like staff, must complete ATV safety training (see section FA-711 of the National Camp Standards).

“It’s important that kids ride the appropriately sized ATVs,” Yager says. “Instructors will ensure they’re on the right size ATV; they’ll ensure that they’re wearing all the proper protective gear; they’re going to supervise the operation of the vehicle; they’re going to ensure that they’re riding in appropriate areas and not taking on terrain that exceeds either the ATV’s capabilities or their abilities. That’s the benefit of taking a structured program with a licensed individual leading the activity.”

You make the call

Riding ATVs is a popular and desired activity among youth, but they shouldn’t be the ones making the decision to go riding.

“The best person to make the determination as to whether or not their child is appropriate for engaging in ATV operation is, in fact, the parent or caregiver,” Yager says.

So, how do you know if your child is ready to give ATVs a try? The ATV Safety Institute has created a checklist to help parents with the decision. Factors to consider include the child’s physical capabilities, emotional maturity and decision-making skills. It isn’t enough that a youth know how to operate an ATV; they need to know how to inspect one, so they know the vehicle is just as ready for a ride as they are. They need to know first-aid skills and how different terrain can affect a vehicle’s handling.

Find more safety tips here. Contact your local council regarding a Scout camp in your area with an ATV program, and to find an ATV safety course near you, visit here.

About Michael Freeman 182 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.