All-terrain vehicles may look fun and relatively harmless, but in the past six weeks three Inland Northwest riders have been killed in ATV accidents.
The deaths can’t be attributed to any one cause, authorities say. One rider wasn’t wearing a helmet, another had been drinking alcohol and the third was crushed when his ATV rolled over on him.
But with the number of ATV riders increasing each year – there currently are 149,100 ATV and off-road vehicle operators in Washington compared with 69,000 a decade ago – authorities say more training could help prevent mishaps.
“It’s probably just a little streak of bad luck,” said Kootenai County sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Burns, who is assigned to a new backcountry patrol team. “Plus people have more and more (ATVs), and not everybody gets training on them.”
ATV deaths in the state have been relatively rare; 90 people were killed in ATV-related accidents from 1982 to 2006, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. No data were available for 2007.
Authorities say many fatalities could be avoided if people follow safety guidelines and take advantage of ATV training classes.
“The biggest thing is to wear a helmet and eye protection,” Burns said. “Over the (July 4) weekend, a lot of adults had their kids on the backs without helmets, which is illegal.”
Off-road vehicle riders 18 and younger have to wear helmets.
Also, riders should have travel plans and tell people what they are, Burns said. A woman who crashed her ATV in North Idaho last week, suffering head injuries, hadn’t told anyone where she was going. When she used her cell phone to call for help, emergency crews had a hard time finding her.
“There are some real dangers for inexperienced drivers,” said Bryant Robinson, a Spokane County park ranger.
“ATVs behave really erratically on the blacktop (street),” he said. “Some will go up to 70 mph. They are unstable on streets because of the big tires. They’ll grip, and it will flip.”
Bryant added that riding with passengers is unsafe. And children should ride ATVs that are size-appropriate.
Manufacturers such as Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha offer buyers of new ATVs vouchers for a four-hour safety course taught by area instructors. The same class is open to the public and costs $125 for adults and $75 for children younger than 16.
“The class covers the basics, including introducing the new rider to the machine – start, stop and kill switch. It also teaches turning skills,” said Robinson, who is a certified instructor. “They are shown sharp turns, sudden stops and wide turns, and obstacle avoidance.”