All terrain vehicles are great fun as well as tremendously useful in forestry, farming and a host of other contexts but they’ve had bad press for their safety record. The solution is better drivers and better vehicles.
ATV manufacturers recommend helmets, eye-wear, gloves and riding boots and for hill-climbing and motocross additional pads for knees, shins and chest. Serious accidents typically occur when vehicles roll over.
A survey by Science Direct found that helmet use is high with the result that few serious injuries are to the head. However, of the 32 casualties in the survey 10 were under 16 and 23 had no previous experience driving an ATV, illustrating the serious need for better training for prospective drivers.
In the UK well organised courses are provided by EASI, the not-for-profit European ATV Safety Institute. It is sponsored by leading ATV manufacturers to provide training for riders of all ages. By law riders must be old enough for the type of vehicle they use.
In the south of Ireland most ATV courses are run by commercial companies catering for the construction and engineering sectors, so private owners may be better off travelling to the north to find a course.
On the road
Most ATVs are not road legal unless they are taxed, insured, registered and the driver holds a B1 licence. In the US 60% of ATV deaths occur on public highways. For latest licensing and safety legislation see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1989/2288/contents/made.
Most ATVs were made with a solid rear axle with no differential. This is poor for handling and safety whether on the trail or a road. Studies show that fully suspended ATVs have fewer serious accidents than front-only or tyre only ones. An example of safer suspension design is the Can Am Outlander series, and if you’re in Ireland Can Am are available here http://www.allsparesatv.com/product/can-am-outlander-l-450/.
Also because of the handling, ATVs must not carry passengers as they prevent the driver shifting their weight to control the vehicle. Most are wholly unsuited to lightweight children for the same reason.
Do a pre-ride inspection every time. Check the rims for any damage and the tyres for wear. Tyres should also be chosen for the type of terrain. Check cables are secure and inspect the chain for worn links, broken teeth or lack of lubrication.