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Is It Safe for Children to Operate an ATV?

All-terrain vehicles can go 60 mph and weigh 600 pounds. Yet, many owners think of them as just big toys. Consider the facts: there are more than 700 deaths and 100,000 ATV-related injuries each year. Accidents happen when these vehicles are operated in the wrong place, under the wrong conditions, and by people too young or too inexperienced in ATV safety measures.

The first ATVs were three-wheeled vehicles that were designed for farm use. Because of the high incidence of injury on these vehicles, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission imposed a 10-year ban on their use in 1988. When they were re-introduced to the public, it was with strict rules limiting the sale of adult-sized vehicles for use by children and with safety awareness and educational program requirements. Since the development of four-wheelers and the expiration of the ban, the vehicles have become more powerful and faster, and as a result, ATV-associated injuries have risen in all age groups, particularly in young riders.

The most dangerous factor is the power of the vehicles. Today’s ATVs are much bigger and faster than the original 3-wheeled farm vehicles. Today, they are really considered motor vehicles but lacking the safety features required for automobiles. In addition, there are no requirements of any kind for formal training or to learn how to operate an ATV safely. It is really the worst combination possible, and children under the age of 16 are paying the biggest price.

The Facts of Why Children and ATVs Don’t Mix

ATVs are important to many lifestyles, both for recreation and work.  However, pediatricians and leading medical groups say young children haven’t developed the strength, coordination or judgment needed to safely handle these powerful machines. Nationwide, ATVs seriously injure or kill over 40,000 children under age 16 every year. The following facts highlight a growing problem and the very real costs to families and society at large and underscore the need to enact common-sense safety standards that keep children under 16 from driving these heavy vehicles.

Interestingly, studies show that a majority of ATV accidents involve a rollover, in which the vehicle rolls and either throws the rider or traps him beneath the ATV. Often children are injured in ATV accidents because the rider and vehicle are mismatched. Because the ATV can weigh several hundred pounds, children don’t have the body mass or muscular strength to stop the ATV from rolling, resulting in a more serious accident and injury.

America’s Doctors Believe ATVs Too Dangerous for Children Under 16

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOP) children under the age of 16 should not operate ATVs.  The American Academy of Pediatrics declares, “Laws should prohibit the use of ATVs, on- or off-road, by children and adolescents younger than 16 years. An automobile driver’s license, and preferably some additional certification in ATV use, should be required to operate an ATV.

The safe use of ATVs requires the same or greater skill, judgment, and experience as needed to operate an automobile.” (AAP, Policy Statement, All-Terrain Vehicle Injury Prevention: Two-, Three-, and Four-Wheeled Unlicensed Motor Vehicles, 2000)


As of December 31, 2012, there were 12391 fatalities resulting from ATVs occurring between 1982 and 2012. (Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2012 Annual Report of All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)-related deaths and injuries). There were 2944 children under 16 killed in ATV accidents between 1982 and 2012, accounting for 24% of ATV related deaths during those 30 years.

Serious Injuries

In 2012 there were 107,900 ATV-related injuries reported by emergency rooms across the United States. 25% of these accidents involved children under 16 years old. (Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2012 Annual Report of All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)-related deaths and injuries). Sixty-three percent of children injured was driving at the time of the accident, and the others were passengers.

ATV Injuries More Severe than Other Recreational Activities

Nine percent of ATV accidents result in hospitalization, which is four times the percentage of injuries caused by all of the other 15,000 regulated consumer products on the market. ATV driving has the highest risk of hospitalization of 33 sports and activities in which children regularly participate.

Recommendations if You Plan to Operate an ATV

Because ATVs are not toys, children are not permitted to operate ATVs without specialized training; only then should they operate an ATV of the appropriate size. Contact the ATV Safety Institute to enroll in a course.

  • Riders should be at least 12 years of age to operate ATVs with an engine size of 70cc to 90cc, and at least 16 years old to operate anything greater.
  • All riders should read and understand the owner’s manuals carefully.
  • ATVs are not intended for passengers.
  • ATVs are intended for off-road purposed only –  do not operate on streets, highways, or paved roads of any kind.
  • Safety courses are highly recommended.

Ayres Cluster Law Firm urges you to please drive your ATV safely and supervise all minor children to avoid serious injury.