SPECIAL REPORT: Rules of the Off Road

Lawton_All Terrain Vehicles have been a hot topic lately, as well as a controversial one.  At what age should someone be allowed to drive an ATV?  Where should people be able to drive them? Should they wear a helmet when doing so?  These are all questions that have come up in the news as well as the chambers of lawmakers.  7News has covered accidents involving young people in Texoma and the new laws being enforced.  We talked to the people closest to this issue - those who recreationally and professionally use ATVs to discuss the "Rules of the Off Road".

It's a cool fall morning and rancher Don Armes is out checking his cattle.  It's a job that would take a lot longer without his ATV.  "For quickness and speed and getting the job done right now, a 4-wheeler is hard to beat," he says.  ATVs have their origin in farming.  But they've now become increasingly popular as recreational vehicles - and for racing.

13 year old Checotah and 6 year old Dakota Lynn both race their ATVs.  "I like to go fast 'cause on four-wheelers you can go fast," says Checotah.  "I like racing people.  I think its fun," says Dakota.  For them, riding and racing is a family tradition.  They ride right along with their dad who is a lifetime rider.

"Yeah we all had 'em when I was growing up.  So now me and my boys we all got 'em so we like to ride," says Jessie Lynn.  But mom and dad have taken a tough stance with their boys when it comes to safety.  "Helmets are always on," says Mom Kristi.  "They do not get on and start it unless that helmet is there."

The family knows that ATVs can be deadly if the proper precautions aren't taken.  "Just about anything that can be done in a car, you can do it ten times easier in a 4-wheeler," says Jessie.  And, we've seen that first hand here in Texoma.  In the beginning of October, a teen girl in Cache was thrown from the ATV she was driving.  She is now paralyzed on one side of her body.

At the beginning of November another girl from Duncan was critically injured when her ATV rolled on top of her.  In each case the question arose - would safety gear have prevented these accidents?  Lessened the injuries?  Signs point to yes.  And, this may become a bigger issue as ATV sales continue to rise.

According to worldthinktank.net, in the past five years ATV sales have risen 500% - and, the number of accidents has risen 300%.  Any way you look at the numbers, everyone 7News talked to agreed - safety is key.  "There's a lot of people that get out there and they want to go fast," says Armes.  "And, of course, when you put fast in the hands of the inexperienced, you're gonna have a wreck somewhere."

Across the nation, ATV laws are becoming a hot issue.  Just this month Oklahoma enacted a law that requires all riders under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding - unless they're on private property.  ATV dealers are getting in on it too.  Honda, Yamaha and Powersports in Lawton have an agreement that must be signed by anyone buying a new ATV.

The agreement states that the dealer has gone over specific safety precautions with the customer.  From the importance of reading the owner's manual to the lifesaving habit of wearing a helmet.  So, the Rules of the Off Road are there - but riders of any age will have to pay attention and take the valuable advice.  "You know, you can't make people be safe," says Armes.

And, the Lynn family has advice too - advice 7News has been passing along.  "No matter where they at, they need to wear their helmet," says Jessie.  "Always wear it," says Checotah.  If you're a parent with kids who ride - take a cue from Kristi and her boys.  "They can get out and get on the four-wheelers safely - and if they're not then they're not going to ride.  So they choose to ride safe," Kristi says.

So how do you ride or drive safely?  Here are some lifesaving tips:

  • Always wear a helmet
  • Wear safety gear - like gloves and chest protectors
  • Get qualified training before you drive your ATV
  • Ride with others - never alone
  • Parents, supervise your kids
  • Ride within your skill level
  • Fit the rider to the ATV - smaller vehicles for smaller kids
  • Familiarize yourself with the ATV before you ride it

All of these safety tips came from research and interviews 7News gathered for this story.

More and more manufacturers are taking ATV safety seriously.  In fact, many will reimburse the cost of a safety course after you complete it.  There's one right here in Lawton - check them out at www.ok-atvtraining.com.  Remember, ATVs can be dangerous, but if you make an effort to be safe, you lessen the chance that you'll have an accident.  Or, if you do, you minimize the chance of being seriously injured.  It's all about following the Rules of the Off Road.