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ATV Safety

With so many options for outdoor recreation in southern Oregon, summer sunshine is almost synonymous with all-terrain vehicles.

With new laws in place, and such potential for serious injury, it's important to take required—as well as recommended—precautions when operating potentially dangerous machinery.

First and foremost, federal and state laws vary on ATVs.

A new state law (Senate Bill 101) took effect January 1 offering more stringent guidelines about necessary training and certification for minors who ride ATVs but bringing more lax standard for sizes of riders allowed on certain ATVs.

Essentially, both state and federal agencies prohibit ATVs from being operated by anyone under the age of 6.

Federal law requires ATV retailers to follow manufacturer standards, implementing weight limits for riders on ATVs of varying size engines, says sales consultant Patrick Larson of Kawasaki & Honda of Medford.

Oregon state laws that took effect this year require more training and certification for riders than federal law requires but allow smaller riders on bigger ATVs than manufacturer—and federal law—say are OK.

"The state is more lax than federal about what they can ride, so they can ride the bigger ATVs but they're not able to get them from dealerships because federal law says no way and dealerships have to abide by what the federal law says," says Larson.

"So a rider well under manufacturer guidelines can go to the dunes and ride according to state guidelines if he meets what they call rider fit—but we can't knowingly sell a quad for someone who's not big enough."

According to manufacturers, riders should be paired with ATVs according to size and weight:

ATV riders under age six cannot operate an ATV according to manufacturer standards; riders age 6 to 11 cannot operate an engine larger than 50cc and riders age 12 to 15 cannot ride ATVS with engine sizes greater than 90cc.

After age 16, anything goes, Metcalf says.

State guidelines, however, call for standards based on "rider fit."

Basically, explains Medford Power Sports manager Nick Metcalf, "rider fit" means, when a rider is sitting on the quad, feet must touch the floor and legs should be at a 45 degree angle.

Beyond legal training and having the right size bike, a Department of Transportation-approved helmet with chinstrap is required by state and federal law for ATV riders under 18, though helmets are advised for all riders for safety's sake.

Other recommendations include body armor, gloves, boots and goggles. For the ATV, a sticker, similar to a boat registration, is required for $10 per year through Oregon State Parks and Recreation offices.

Final words of advice, take advantage of maps depicting where to ride — and not to ride — all-terrain vehicles.

"It's important that folks really understand the application for which their machine is designed and they have to determine potential for risk as with any machinery," Larson says.

"A lot of accidents really come down to carelessness, not knowing machine capability, not wearing protective gear or not having that education and knowledge."

Larson adds, "And it's important to be aware of your surroundings and where it's OK to ride. Scout the areas by foot before riding them if you have to. A lot of people have ridden for years and don't even know about the new laws. If they're not sure, visit a dealership."

ATV Safety