Fall is upon us and thousands of youth and adults will be getting on their ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicle) or in their ROVs (Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle) for work, fun, and sport. You might be using your ATV or ROV for work on your land, or maybe your family and friends might be out exploring the great outdoors. Whatever the case, remember that safe and responsible use of your ATV or ROV begins with you.

ATV or ROV

An ATV is a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure tires. The rider straddles the seat and steers with handlebars. There are Type I ATVs, which are designed for one person only and no passengers, and Type II ATVs, which are intended for use by an operator and one passenger only. Always follow the manufacturer’s minimum age recommendation warning label found on the ATV.

ROVs – sometimes referred to as side-by-sides or UTVs – are motorized off-highway vehicles designed to travel on four or more off-highway tires. ROVs have an occupant protective structure, seat belts and are operated with foot pedals and a steering wheel, much like a car. Some may have a bed for hauling gear and supplies. Manufacturers recommend that only drivers 16 years of age or older with a valid driver’s license operate a ROV.

ATVs and ROVs are designed for off-highway use only and should not be used on paved surfaces.

Proper Gear

While operating your ATV or ROV, always wear the right safety gear. This will help prevent injuries if you are involved in a crash. A Department of Transportation (DOT) approved helmet is the single most important piece of safety gear that a person can wear. A helmet can prevent a serious head injury. Your helmet should fit snugly and fasten securely. Full-face helmets help protect your face as well as your head.

You’ll need to wear goggles or a faceshield for eye protection. Rocks, branches or even bugs can hit you in the face and distract you. If you are hit in the eyes without proper protection, you can be blinded. Regular glasses or sunglasses do not provide proper protection.

A good pair of gloves can help keep your hands from getting sore, tired or cold, as well as give you better grip as you operate your machine.

The recommended protective footwear is a pair of strong, over-the-ankle boots with soles having a good grip to help keep your feet from slipping on the footrest of your ATV or the pedals of your ROV.

While operating your ATV or ROV, it is important to protect your arms and legs. A long-sleeved shirt or jersey and long pants are the minimum requirements for protection. Chest protectors, neck braces, and armor for elbows, knees, and shoulders are also encouraged. You never know what you may come across on the trail. You can look stylish and ready for action, and still be well protected.

Hunters

Never transport your gun while it is loaded or carry it across your lap or on your shoulder while on your ATV. Always transport your gun in a gun case fastened to the rear rack of your ATV or a manufactured gun rack/clamp or a mounted gun case. The same goes when using your ROV.

ATV and ROV Pre-Ride Inspection

Before going out to operate your ATV or ROV, always conduct a pre-ride inspection to make sure they are in good working condition. This is important to minimize the chance of injury or being stranded, as well as to ensure the long-term enjoyment of your machine. Remember, you can ride farther in an hour than you can walk in a day. The best source of inspection information is your owner’s manual. Follow the inspection and maintenance procedures and schedules described in it, and remember routine maintenance goes beyond a pre-ride inspection.

ATVs and ROVs for Work

Because of their hauling capabilities, both ATVs and ROVs are helpful vehicles in agricultural, industrial and construction settings.

If you are using the racks on your ATV to haul items, be sure to check the manufacturer’s maximum weight limit for your racks. Always make sure your material is securely tied down to the racks. Due to the hauling purpose in the beds of some ROVs, special attention should be paid to making sure cargo or material is properly secured during transport.

In addition, some ATVs and ROVs are often used to tow, and it is important to follow safety practices when towing a load. When towing, make sure the cargo box is loaded to assume good traction for driving and stopping. Be sure to tow a load at a speed slow enough to maintain control. Remember, the stopping distance increases with speed and weight of a towed load with ATVs and ROVs. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations for weight limits for hauling and towing equipment.

Always Plan Ahead

Good planning, following the recommended maintenance schedule of your machine, traveling in the company of others, and practicing safe riding habits can help you get the most out of your ATV or ROV on short or extended rides. Before you leave, prepare and secure some emergency supplies, including tools, drinking water, snacks, maps, a first-aid kit and any other items necessary for your ride. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. It is also smart to share your route with them and carry a cell phone or satellite phone. Always get permission from a landowner if you will be operating your machine on private land, and be familiar with laws and regulations while on public land.

Effects of Alcohol, Drugs, and Fatigue

Operating an ATV or ROV can be more demanding than driving a car. You have to be in good physical and mental condition to ride safely. Three things that keep ATV and ROV users from being in top shape for riding are alcohol, drugs, and fatigue. Each of these affects the operator’s decision-making process. Your physical and mental reaction times can become dangerously impaired. Alcohol/Drugs and ATVs/ROVs do not mix.

TREAD Lightly!

Riding behavior that harms the land is self-defeating and irresponsible. Learn to protect and preserve your riding areas. In other words, TREAD Lightly! Travel responsibly on designated trails or in permitted off-highway areas. Respect the rights of others including private property owners and all recreational trail users, campers, and others to allow them to enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed. Educate yourself prior to your trip by obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies, planning for your trip, taking recreational skills classes and knowing how to operate your equipment safely. Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams, unless on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage. Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species, restoring degraded areas and joining a local enthusiast organization. Visit treadlightly.org for more information.

ATV Safety Institute or ROV Safety Courses

To take the free online ATV Safety Institute (ASI) ATV E-Course or the hands-on ASI ATV RiderCourse taught by a Licensed Instructor, go to atvsafety.org.

To take the free online Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) ROV E- Course or the hands-on ROHVA ROV Basic DriverCourse taught by a Licensed Instructor, go to rohva.org.

ATV Safety Institute’s Golden Rules

Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, and gloves. Never ride on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law - another vehicle could hit you. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway. Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV, and no more than one passenger on an ATV specifically designed for two people. Ride an ATV that's right for your age. Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys. Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed. Take a hands-on ATV RiderCourse and the free online E-Course.

Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association’s ROV Safety Rules

Always fasten your seat belt, wear a helmet and other protective gear and keep all parts of your body inside the ROV. Avoid paved surfaces. ROVs are designed to be operated off-highway. Drive only in designated areas, at a safe speed, and use care when turning and crossing slopes. Never drive or ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Never drive a ROV unless you’re 16 or older and have a valid driver’s license. ROVs are not toys. Never carry more passengers than the ROV is designed for, and never allow a passenger who is too small to sit in a passenger seat to ride in the ROV. Read and follow the operator’s manual and warning labels. Take a hands-on ROV Basic DriverCourse and the free online ROV E-Course.

Remember to always be safe out there! Every Ride. Every Time. Have fun and enjoy what our great outdoors has to offer.

Mike Klumpp is Associate Professor Emeritus University of Arkansas, ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma – ATV Safety Coordinator, ATV Safety Institute Licensed Chief ATV RiderCourse Instructor, and Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association ROV Driver Coach Instructor. Contact him at 405-657-7444 or mklumpp.osu@gmail.com.