All-terrain vehicles have become extremely common in West Virginia. Unfortunately, ATV accidents have become common as well. Even more unfortunate is the number of these accidents that result in death.

West Virginia has led the nation in ATV fatalities per capita each of the last three years. More than 150 West Virginians have died in ATV accidents since January 2002. Even with legislation passed to regulate riding, the number of deaths per year is still rising. Already this year, 27 people have died in ATV accidents.

Paige Ward, co-owner of United Cycle in Beckley, says he believes the fact that West Virginia leads the nation in fatalities is related to the number of ATV riders in the state.

“What you have to realize is that so many people in West Virginia own and operate ATVs.”

Estimates of the number of four-wheelers owned by West Virginians have reached 400,000. In addition, many tourists travel to West Virginia to ride their ATVs at attractions like the Hatfield-McCoy Trail.

Ward said he believes most ATV riders have accidents because they do not follow the manufacturers’ guidelines.

“There is always a risk when operating any kind of machine, but when you follow the guidelines, you will minimize that risk.”

He said one problem occurs when riders start doubling on ATVs.

“When you have two people riding on the ATV, it alters the balance of the weight.”

He also emphasized all riders should wear helmets and take a safety training course before operating an ATV.

Dr. Jim Helmkamp, director of the Injury Control Research Center at WVU, agreed with Ward’s views on what should be done to increase ATV safety.

“It really is a combination of things that need to be changed,” he asserted. He mentioned it would be helpful to have a mandatory helmet law for all riders, not just those under the age of 18.

He also stressed, “We need parents to take charge and keep a close watch over their kids’ riding and riding habits. Many kids are riding adult ATVs and having accidents because the adult ATV is too big for them.”

Other guidelines include warnings not to operate your ATV under the influence of alcohol, to wear protective clothing and not to ride on a paved surface. Even though the machine is called an all-terrain vehicle, it really is an off-road-terrain vehicle.

Helmkamp explained it is the tires of the ATV which make it better fit for off-road terrain.

“The tread on these tires are so deep that they can’t grab a paved surface. The tires were specifically designed to give great grip off road.”

Raleigh County Sheriff Danny Moore echoed Helmkamp, adding, “You can look at ATVs and tell they were not built for on-road activity. The law allows an ATV to ride on the berm of the highway for a short distance, with speeds that do not exceed 25 miles per hour.”

The allowances are supposed to give riders an opportunity to access a highway only to travel to an off-road outlet.

“You have no protection on an ATV. If you are riding 25 miles per hour on the highway berm and collide with a car, you will be seriously injured,” Moore maintained.

The Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority is also trying to reduce the number of ATV fatalities in the state. While riding on any of the five Hatfield-McCoy trail systems, all riders must meet specific safety requirements, including wearing a helmet and certain other safety gear, according to Chief Ranger Steve Simpkins.

The HMRRA will be educating young children on ATV safety with in-school presentations. According to the HMRRA, the idea is to develop good safety habits in the kids even before they start riding. The authority also offers safety training courses on weekdays and weekends throughout the year.

Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, who has been very much involved with ATV safety legislation, believes state laws have been established properly for ATV riders.

“We don’t want to do anything to interfere with anyone using ATVs properly. Many people enjoy ATVs responsibly and own them for recreational purposes.

“ATVs were made to be enjoyed, and everyone should be able to enjoy ATVs in a responsible way.”

When they are operated properly, he said, ATV riding is a great and safe activity.

New riders purchasing their first ATV can take the safety training course with the assistance of the manufacturer.

“At United Cycle, we enroll all willing new riders in a safety course and pay for the course. I know that many other manufacturers in the area will do the same for first-time buyers,” Ward said.

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