Farmers and ranchers in all parts of the country rely on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to complete a variety of jobs related to production agriculture. Manufacturers continue to identify new applications and develop pull-behind attachments to increase the versatility and usefulness of ATVs.
Despite their usefulness, ATVs remain a source of problematic incidents on farms and ranches. In the United States in 2008, ATV accidents resulted in 135,100 injuries and 410 deaths (Consumer Product Safety Commission). To reduce the risk of an ATV-related injury or death, take the following precautions:
Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Participate in certified safety training.
Maintain your ATV in proper working condition.
Practice safe operating procedures.
Follow safety recommendations from:
the ATV's manufacturer and
organizations that address safety in production agriculture, such as Cooperative Extension programs at land-grant universities.
Protective Gear for ATV Operators
The most important piece of PPE for an operator is a helmet. Observe the following guidelines when selecting and wearing a helmet for ATV use:
Select a helmet that is the correct size for the operator.
To ensure that a helmet has been safety-tested, select a helmet approved for ATV use by:
the American National Standards Institute (ANSI),
the U.S. Department of Transportation, or
the Snell Memorial Foundation.
If the helmet is not equipped with a face shield, wear ANSI-approvedgoggles or glasses with hard-coated polycarbonate lenses.
When operating an ATV, you should also wear:
a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, and
When using an ATV during the application of pesticides, follow the PPE recommendations on the applicator's label because you will be in close proximity to the applicator's spray nozzle and the treated material.
The ideal setting for learning about ATV safety and operation is an approved safety training program. The website ATVsafety.gov provides:
text of legislation regarding ATV use,
state-specific information about ATV regulations, and
contact information for ATV safety training programs for adults and teens.
Click here to be directed to ATVsafety.gov to locate a safety training program in your area.
Properly maintaining your ATV and executing a checklist before riding can minimize your risk of injury and decrease the possibility of being stranded due to engine malfunction. Check the following items before riding your ATV:
Tires: Uneven air pressure in the tires can cause your ATV to pull in the direction of the tire with the least amount of air pressure.
Always maintain the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure in each tire.
To check air pressure, use a specialized air-pressure gauge designed for ATV tires.
Make sure that all nuts and bolts are tightly secured on the tires and use a cotter pin when necessary.
Check the throttle by moving the handlebars from left to right.
The handlebars should move smoothly.
There should be no mud or dirt restricting proper movement.
Check the brakes before every ride.
After consulting your owner's manual, check the brakes to make sure the controls work smoothly and effectively and are adjusted accordingly.
Check that all lights are working properly.
To ensure the optimal level of lighting, wipe any dirt off the lights before riding.
Oil and fuel
Check your ATV for leaks.
Make sure you have appropriate levels of oil and fuel.
Drive train and chassis
Assess any wear on your chains and replace them or lubricate as needed.
If your ATV has a drive shaft instead of a chassis, check for oil leaks and maintain oil levels according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Examine your chassis and tighten any loose parts. The vibrations of the ATV can loosen nuts and bolts.
Safe Operating Procedures
Turning: Remember to shift your weight properly when making a turn.
When making a turn at a low speed, shift your body weight forward and to the outside of the turn while turning the handlebars.
When making a turn at a higher speed, lean your upper body toward the inside of the turn while keeping your weight on the outer footrest.
Braking: Applying the brakes evenly and gently will bring the ATV to a proper stop.
When possible, release the throttle and shift to a lower gear prior to coming to your stopping point.
Climbing: Operating an ATV on a slope that is too steep increases your risk for a potentially deadly overturn.
When you approach an incline, keep both feet firmly on the footrests and shift your body weight forward.
If your ATV stalls on a steep incline and you begin to drift backward, apply the brakes slowly.
Applying the brakes too fast when rolling backward could result in a rear overturn.
Always shift into a lower gear and point your ATV downhill when descending an incline.
Keep your feet firmly on the footrest and slide to the back of the operator’s seat to improve your stability.
Operating on sloped terrain: Shifting your body weight while in the operator's seat significantly changes the ATV's center of gravity on sloped terrain.
When possible, avoid driving your ATV across steep slopes when the terrain is slippery or bumpy.
If you must drive on such conditions, keep your feet on the footrests and lean your body weight uphill.
ATVs in Work Scenarios
It is important to choose an appropriate ATV for the particular needs of your farm operation. Note that four-wheeled ATVs have a better work capacity, are more stable, and pose a lower risk of side overturns than three-wheeled ATVs. Three-wheeled ATVs are no longer being manufactured, and a four-wheeled ATV is the safer choice.
(Photo Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)
The main differences between an ATV with a 2x4 drive train and an ATV with a 4x4 drive train are turning ability and driving ability on varying terrains. Different drive systems (limited slip differential, locking differential, and so on) result in different handling capabilities.
Attachments such as carrying racks and pulled equipment affect an ATV’s operation. Front and rear carrying racks are used to transport farm supplies such as small square bales or bagged feed. To avoid a rear overturn with your ATV, never carry more than one-third of the ATV’s weight on a rear carrying rack. Whenever possible, divide the load between a front and rear carrying rack.
When towing a load with an ATV, the load should never weigh more than the weight of the ATV plus the weight of the operator. You should hitch only to the manufacturer's hitch point and follow all manufacturer's recommendations for your ATV because some attachments may be too heavy for your ATV’s brakes. When you go down a slope with an attachment that is too heavy, the attachment can push your ATV, causing it to jackknife or resulting in an overturn.
General Safety Recommendations
Never carry a passenger. Extra riders can limit the operator’s ability to steer and control the vehicle and can interfere with the operator's ability to shift his or her weight properly.
A passenger is allowable only if the ATV was designed for two people.
Do not allow children to ride with the operator during work tasks.
Check your riding area to make sure it is free from hazards such as rocks, stumps, branches, and fences.
Know and obey the laws in your area related to ATV operation.
Ask permission before riding on private property and be aware that some areas may require written permission.
Use lights, reflectors, and flags to increase the ATV’s visibility.
Do not show off, perform stunts, or speed.
ATV tires are not designed for road travel, so avoid public roads and paved surfaces, which can affect the handling and control of the ATV, posing a risk for overturn.
Keep your feet on the footrests at all times.
Remember that certain ATV parts, such as the engine, exhaust pipe, and muffler, are hot and can cause burns.
Keep your hands and feet away from all moving parts on the ATV.
Maintain proper riding posture to operate the controls effectively.
Do not operate an ATV if you have drugs or alcohol in your bloodstream; your reaction time and judgment may be impaired.
See the video clip below from the ATV Safety Institute to learn about preparing for an ATV ride.