By Maria Masters
Card your kid. The minimum age for riding an ATV varies by state (see atvsafety.org), but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends them only for kids 16 and up. In 2011 children younger than that suffered an estimated 27% of ATV related injuries treated in emergency rooms and 17% of ATV-related deaths. They may lack the experience and skills to make quick decisions. If you let your kid ride earlier, make sure he's supervised and rides an age-appropriate vehicle.
Choose a safe area. Steering on a smooth surface (like a sidewalk) makes the ATV more difficult to control, says Elwell. But don't let him ride just anywhere off-road: Uneven terrain also increases the risk of a crash. Make sure you're familiar with the location first; the best places are wide-open and free of obstacles. Find ATV-friendly trails at recreation.gov.
Buy protective gear. Your teen should always wear a Department of Transportation–compliant helmet when driving. Make sure he also puts on goggles, gloves, over-the-ankle boots, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect him from rocks and branches.
Don't let his friends ride tandem. Double riding—where one person sits on the back of a single-rider ATV while another drives—increases the likelihood of an accident. "Kids might get distracted or feel added pressured to take risks," says Elwell. "Plus, having a passenger in the back can cause the vehicle to become unstable."
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.
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