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Safety — first

By Staff | Jul 31, 2009

Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) such as ATVs are fun to drive, they go fast and they can travel across many types of terrain.

They also can be very dangerous if not handled properly, and over the years there have been a number of OHV-related accidents, especially involving young riders.

In an effort to promote rider safety and ensure teens 16 and under are licensed to operate OHVs, the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department conducts safety certification courses across the state. The class was offered last week in Rugby.

“The emphasis is safety,” said Matt Gardner, recreation education specialist with N.D. Parks and Recreation. “Safety is an attitude, and if young riders can get into the mindset that they need to be responsible when operating these vehicles, chances are they will avoid accidents.”

Under state law, a person must be at least 12 years old and possess an off-highway vehicle safety certificate to operate OHVs, which include ATVs, dirt bikes, and side-by-side vehicles, including dune buggies. Anyone under 16 without a valid driver’s license or safety certificate may not operate an OHV except on the private lands of that person’s parent or guardian or as a participant in an organized sporting event that involves the use of OHVs.

No one under the age of 18 may ride or otherwise be propelled by an OHV without a safety helmet, meeting DOT standards.

Twelve-year-old Trevor Longie was one of the few that took advantage of the July 28 class to get certified.

“I wanted to take the class so I know how to ride safely and not get hurt,” Longie said.

Eight-year-old Riley Zachmeier was too young to recieve his riding certification, needing to be at least 12, but attended the course to learn more about OHVs.

A majority of OHV-related accidents are caused by improper use of or lack of knowledge or training on how to handle the machines. A rise in the number of OHV accidents is what prompted the start of the education and safety courses.

Gardner said common sense often can prevent a lot of accidents, “They are made to go off-road but handled at responsible speeds,” he said. “Accidents happen when operators exceed their abilities to handle the machines.”

Injuries are often due to riders not wearing helmets, safety goggles and proper clothing.

Since the OHV was offered, there has not been a reported accident involving an operator who went through the course, Gardner said.

The four-hour course went over such subjects as proper riding attire; how to conduct pre-ride checklists; starting procedures; being alert drivers by scanning the terrain to identify potential hazards and obstacles; riding with passengers; and how to safely negotiate turns and ascend and descend hills. Following the review of operating and safety procedures, the students took a test before getting their certification.

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