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Following ATV laws can reduce accidents, experts said

Off-roading vehicles designed differently, but have same rules

(Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
(Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Most off-roading accidents in Iowa happen when people are breaking the law or not following manufacturers’ safety instructions, state officials said.

“When I see there was an ATV accident, I just wait to hear they were riding double,” said David Downing, coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Off-Highway Vehicle program.

Off-road vehicle accidents have claimed the lives of six Eastern Iowa children in the past week.

Four Dubuque County 14-year-old boys were killed Saturday when their John Deere Gator off-road vehicle (ORV) was hit by a pickup on a county road. Nine-year-old twin boys died Monday after their all-terrain vehicle (ATV) toppled into a rural Linn County creek, pinning them underneath.

Investigations continue into these accidents.

Meanwhile, Downing and others who promote safe ATV use said tragedies can be prevented if Iowans follow the law for off-road vehicle use.

The first thing to remember is that ATVs and ORVs are not the same.

Most ATVs are intended for just one person who steers with handlebars and leans for balance. ATVs have a high center of gravity and are prone to rollovers, especially when driven too fast around corners, said Pam Hoogerwerf, community outreach and injury prevention coordinator for patient and family-centered services at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

ORVs or Utility Vehicles (UTVs) are designed to be driven with a steering wheel and can carry up to six people.

“We don’t have nearly as many injuries on UTVs because they have a rollover bar and seat belts,” Hoogerwerf said.

On and off-road

The rules for both types of vehicles are the same.

In the majority of Iowa counties, ATVs and ORVs are allowed on public roadways only for agricultural purposes. Riders must have a valid driver’s license, be at least 16 and, if under age 18, must have a safety certificate.

ATV and ORV riders on public roads for authorized purposes can’t ride before sunrise or after sunset and are restricted to 35 miles per hour.

The Department of Natural Resources has eight off-road vehicle parks, where vehicles must be registered and riders must wear helmets. Children under 12 must have adult supervision, and those 12 to 17 must have a safety certificate.

But on private property, these rules go away.

“A lot of these riders (who are injured) are not experienced ATV riders,” Hoogerwerf said. “They go over to a friend’s house or a relative’s house and just get on without understanding the safety guidelines.”

Of 7,500 Iowa middle school students who heard ATV safety presentations, 85 percent have been on an ATV, either driving it themselves or riding as a passenger, Hoogerwerf said. The presentations were made by the Kohl’s Keeping Kids safe program — a partnership between Kohl’s Department stores and Children’s Hospital.

The biggest reasons for accidents include teens riding machines that are too big and too fast, not wearing a helmet and riding double, she said.

Some Iowa counties and cities allow off-road vehicles on secondary roads. Off-road enthusiasts pushed for a statewide law allowing licensed riders 16 or older to ride on secondary roads, but the efforts failed in 2013 and earlier this year.

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