Despite the popularity of ATVs in the rural areas of Arkansas, without proper respect for these machines, the most innocent of outings can become damaging if not deadly.
Since 1982, there have been more than 640 ATV deaths in the United States, according to the Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
"ATVs are involved in hundreds of serious injuries every year in Arkansas because they are operated recklessly," according to the Division of Agriculture Web site. "Deadly crashes are common and are increasing as the number of vehicles in the state grows. Children are at special risk for being injured in accidents involving ATVs."
The effect of ATV wrecks is felt across the state, so much so that Arkansas Children's Hospital of Little Rock has partnered with the Division of Agriculture to speak about the high number of ATV injuries in the state's children.
"In Children's Hospital what we will see is head injuries, head being the most vulnerable part of the body," said John Nixon, a Children's Hospital spokesman, in an interview with the Division of Agriculture. "We see abdomen injuries where inertia makes them move forward into the handlebars and then they will stick their feet down to try to prevent a rollover or fall and we are seeing some pretty nasty injuries to the extremities."
The Fulton County Extension Service will offer ATV rider courses this fall. The course is a four-hour session for individuals who want to learn about the dos and don'ts of ATV safety. It is produced in a partnership between the Extension Service and the ATV Safety Institute.
"We need to have more respect for the machine," said Fulton County Extension Agent Brad McGinley. "Never ride a passenger except if your ATV is rated for that." ATVs are rated as "one-up" machines and are equipped with an extra long seat to accommodate an extra rider.
"One of the most important rules to follow is wearing a helmet and safety gear," McGinley said. Long pants, over ankle boots, gloves, a helmet and long sleeves should be the minimum safety gear worn when riding an ATV of any kind, he said.
Safety tips supported by the Extension Service and the Children's Hospital are as follows: children under 16 should not ride alone; never ride ATVs on dirt roads; never carry passengers unless the ATV is rated for it; never operate ATVs under the influence of alcohol or drugs; know the terrain of the course; know the local laws; only ride ATVs fitted to your age and size.
Arkansas state law includes the following safety requirements: no ATV shall be operated without a lighted headlight and taillight from an hour after sunset to an hour before sunrise; a person under 12 may not operate an ATV unless with a person 18 or older, or on a parents land, or with the permission of the land owner; ATVs may not be used on public streets or highways, except to cross these roads or for farming or hunting to get from one field to another; an ATV may be used on public streets outside city limits to get from one trail to another or to private property.
"Every ATV that is purchased will have a sticker on it with restrictions according to age," McGinley. He encouraged riders to take note of those requirements and follow them for the benefit of all riders.