ATVs are focus of Farm Safety Week

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) provide a fun means to keep physically fit, enjoy quality family time and accomplish work, but they also pose risks, according to an expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

When combined with Pennsylvania's many hills, forests and roads, the ATV's ability to perform farm work and its propensity for high-speed travel often make it a component of farm accidents. That's why "ATV's -- Work Smart. Ride Safe" is the theme for this year's National Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 19-25, noted Dennis Murphy, distinguished professor of agricultural safety and health at Penn State.

"While the majority of ATV fatalities and serious accidents occur during recreational use, farmers sometimes use the same ATV for recreational use and farm use, so safety is a big issue for people on farms and in rural areas," said Murphy.

This year's theme targets ATVs, where the operator straddles the machine, as opposed to multipurpose utility vehicles -- MUVs -- where the operator sits on a bench seat or in bucket seats, as with Gators, Mules, Rangers and other similar vehicles. "These operate differently than ATVs," Murphy explained.

"We're a state that's targeted this year due to our many fatalities associated with ATVs," he said.

Pennsylvania is the second-deadliest state for ATV accidents with 468 reported ATV deaths between 1982 and 2008, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Pennsylvania is ranked between first-place California and third-place Texas.

To decrease this ranking, Murphy recommended that operators learn about ATV safety before riding. "People often buy ATVs and jump on and teach themselves, but they often don't learn about the safety procedures and cautions that should accompany learning how to operate a machine that is potentially dangerous."

Helmets, eye protection and foot protection should be worn during ATV operation. "All these items enter into safely operating the ATV," Murphy said. "They should all be worn, yet we see a lot of people operating without them."

The fact sheet, "The Safe Use of ATVs in Agriculture," provides recommendations for proper ATV riding apparel. It is available on the Penn State Ag Safety website at http://www.agsafety.psu.edu/factsheets.html or from county Penn State Cooperative Extension offices.

Many ATV accidents stem from running on public roads.

"ATVs are not designed to run on hard roads. The tires are designed to run on grass and dirt," said Murphy. "Operating ATVs at high speeds on the berm of a road can cause them to bounce into traffic, where they can't stop effectively enough, due to the hard surfaces."

In addition to wearing safety equipment and operating ATVs on appropriate surfaces, operators should ensure the ATVs are the right size for them. "Young children and lightweight youth should not operate heavier ATVs because they don't have the weight to properly balance when going around turns," cautioned Murphy. "The size of an ATV is really important."

Penn State offers another fact sheet, "ATVs and Youth: Matching Children and Vehicles," to assist in ATV selection. It also is available on the Penn State Ag Safety website or from county extension offices.

Efforts such as these fact sheets and National Farm Safety and Health Week have steadily improved farm safety, Murphy noted. "We have some bad years, but over a five- or 10-year period, the number of serious and fatal accidents in agriculture has steadily declined," he said.

"There's still lots of room for improvement. We can't be resting on our laurels, but new equipment is becoming safer and we have more programs trying to help people think about the risks and understand the precautions they can take to protect themselves."

For more information on ATV safety or other farm safety fact sheets, visit the Ag Safety website at the URL above.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010