All-terrain vehicles account for nearly 150,000 emergency room visits and over 800 deaths each year in the U.S. About 1 in 4 of these deaths is a child under age 16. Missouri in recent weeks has seen a rash of preventable ATV incidents and injuries.

The injury rate is likely understated because many ATV injuries are treated at home and are not reported, according to Bob Schultheis, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist.

“Accidents involving ATVs have become much more common. This is partly due to the introduction of Chinese-made ATVs that do not have the safety devices of the U.S. made models,” said Schultheis. “Higher gas prices are causing some vehicle owners to shift to ATVs to get around. And sometimes, riders just ignore good safety practices.”

Under Missouri law, no one under age 18 is to operate an ATV without a helmet and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, or riding on a parent’s land if under age 16.

“Parents who do not provide proper safety gear and an age-appropriate safe environment for their children can be subject to expensive lawsuits filed by personal injury attorneys on behalf of the injured children,” said Schultheis.

Great for livestock

According to Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with MU Extension, ATVs have replaced horses and pickup trucks on many southwest Missouri farms and ranches when it comes to moving and checking cattle.

However, they do come with some risk of serious injury. OSHA statistics show three of five occupational ATV fatalities happen in the agriculture sector.

“Recently, I visited the University of Missouri Thompson Farm near Spickard. After the cows were worked, the farm workers mounted their ATVs and quietly moved the herd back to their pasture,” said Cole.

If a person uses low-stress handling tactics and the cattle are accustomed to horses and 4-wheelers, either method works well. According to Cole, if the handlers are in tune with the cattle and what is going on, that is the most important thing.

“The key to moving cattle using a four-wheeler is to move slowly and take time to move the cattle calmly. Just like moving cattle on a horse, a rancher must understand the flight zone and balance point of a cow – and use these concepts,” said Cole

Be a rule follower

Riding on public roads is prohibited, except for agricultural purposes or official government use. Even then, the ATV must be equipped with a lighted head lamp and tail lamp, a slow-moving-vehicle (SMV) emblem, a 7-foot high bicycle flag on the rear of the ATV, and an approved muffler/spark arrester and braking system. The operator must have a valid license, and the ATV must be operated at speeds less than 30 miles per hour.

“Most ATVs are not designed to carry passengers. That long seat is needed by the driver to allow him or her to shift their weight to stay stable on uneven terrain,” said Schultheis. “ATVs designed for passengers will have a backseat and hand rests.”

Children should be at least age 6 to ride, and be matched to an ATV with an engine size less than 70 cubic centimeters (cc). Those ages 6-12 should be matched with a 70-90 cc model, and only those age 16 or older should ride ATV with engines over 90 cc.

“Anyone that drives an ATV should wear appropriate safety gear,” Schultheis warned.

That includes a helmet that bears one of the following labels: the Department of Transportation, the American National Standards Institute, or the SNELL Memorial Foundation. He recommends using full-face helmets.

Schultheis also recommends a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and leather gloves to protect a rider from sun, dust, brush and bugs. Sturdy, above-the-ankle boots are needed for foot protection.

For frequent riders, he suggests off-road style motorcycle gloves and a pair of strong, over-the-calf boots with low heels to prevent your feet from slipping out of the footrests.

For more ATV safety information, visit, or get MU guide G1936 “All-Terrain Vehicles” from the nearest University of Missouri Extension center, or online at