The Times West Virginian

January 5, 2014

Use common sense, observe laws to reduce ATV rider deaths

Times West Virginian

— Obey the laws.

Throw in use of some common sense.

That’s how West Virginia can escape its troubling place atop a national statistic.

West Virginia has the highest rate of ATV rider deaths on public roads, according to a study released Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It looked at rider deaths on public roads from 2007 to 2011.

During that time, 1,701 riders died in crashes on public roads throughout the nation. West Virginia ranked No. 1 on the list with a death rate of 105 per 10 million. In total deaths, West Virginia was third at 96. Kentucky had the most at 122, and Pennsylvania ranked second at 97.

There were 18 ATV-related accidents reported to the Office of Emergency Services in Marion County during 2013, according to a dispatcher at Marion County Central Communications.

Other important findings from the IIHS:

• Of the individuals involved in fatal ATV crashes in recent years, 87 percent were not wearing helmets, and almost half were drunk.

• Only eight states require ATV operators on public roads to wear helmets.

• Among killed ATV drivers, 43 percent had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or greater, compared with a third of passenger vehicle and motorcycle drivers.

• Two thirds of ATV crashes occur on public or private roads, even though they are meant for off-road use. The IIHS says though ATVs can reach highway speeds, their low-pressure tires are not designed for paved surfaces, and many models are prone to rolling over.

Sgt. Michael Baylous of the West Virginia State Police suggests that one of the major factors playing into the high death rate in the state is the terrain and recreational opportunities West Virginia has to offer.

“People take advantage of all the outdoor activity including hiking, skiing and fishing, and with more ATVs being purchased, it results in more deaths,” he said. “Other factors that result in fatal ATV accidents are alcohol, improper or no use of safety equipment, speed and not being familiar with the terrain.”

It’s important that ATVs are used for the purpose they’re designed.

In West Virginia, it depends on the area whether riders can travel on unlined roads or back roads, Baylous said. Some cities have ordinances to allow them to be used in the city, he said.

However, Baylous said people are not permitted to ride along a major highway or interstate.

Baylous said West Virginia does not have a law that requires ATV riders age 18 or older to wear a helmet. However, West Virginia law code 17F states that anyone under the age of 18 must take an ATV safety course and have a valid certificate. These courses are offered at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Following the law, of course, is important. So is taking common-sense precautions such as knowing your skills and abilities, being aware of the area when riding, following the manufacturer’s recommendations, avoiding riding after dark, wearing a helmet and reducing speeds. ATVs, when sold, are equipped with a safety video.

“Whether talking about DUI or talking about highway safety, we always say just use common sense,” Baylous said. “That seems to be the biggest thing. If people would use that, there are a lot of crashes that could be avoided.

“You can’t stop every one of them, but that would make a big difference.”

A difference that would save lives in West Virginia.