ATV Groups to Enthusiasts: Stay Off the Roads

Despite a push in some states to allow all-terrain vehicles to share the road with cars and trucks, industry groups are telling ATV fans that safety should be the leading concern.

They call ’em off-road vehicles for a reason.

A movement to allow all-terrain vehicles to operate on public roads has won fans in rural counties across the country, including in Colorado, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, an association of ATV manufacturers, says the vehicles are not made to share paved roadways with cars and trucks and that operating them on roads could be dangerous.

Since ATVs are not intended to be used on-road, they are not designed, equipped, or tested to meet such standards.

“Since ATVs are not intended to be used on-road, they are not designed, equipped, or tested to meet such standards,” SVIA states in a position paper. “Permitting on-road use of ATVs, including modified ATVs, would be in conflict with manufacturers’ intentions for their proper use and would be contrary to federal safety requirements.”

The association’s ATV Safety Institute underlines this point in its Golden Rules, which emphasize that riders should use ATVs only to cross a paved road, not to ride on it. And a list of riding tips [PDF] notes that “pavement may seriously affect handling and control.”

Another group, the All-Terrain Vehicle Association, backs that stance, though it notes that the millions of ATV riders may see things differently.

“Somebody might find it more convenient to move down a public roadway than take an adjacent trail,” association spokesman Peter Horst told USA Today last year. “It’s often just a matter of, in the mind of the user, just convenience.”

What the Stats Say

The numbers back up the associations.

According to a study released last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), two-thirds of the deaths that occur aboard ATVs are on paved roads. Between 2007 and 2011, 1,701 fatal crashes were reported; 87 percent of riders involved in the crashes weren’t wearing helmets, 43 percent were legally drunk, and some were speeding. The ATV Safety Institute specifically discourages all three practices.

“A big part of the problem is that these vehicles are not designed for use on public roads,” IIHS Senior Vice President for Research Anne McCartt told USA Today. “The other part is that you often see risky behavior among drivers in these fatal crashes.”

But while the numbers speak to major safety concerns—and ATVs lack certain safety equipment that nearly all cars have, such as rear-view mirrors—advocates say other kinds of vehicles are more dangerous on the road.

“People ride motorcycles all the time, and they are more vulnerable,” said Jerry Abboud, executive director of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, speaking to the Wall Street Journal.

Eleven of Colorado’s 64 counties allow ATVs to be operated on some public roads, typically those with lower speed limits. Drivers must be licensed, and the vehicles generally need headlights and taillights. Abboud notes that his group doesn’t recommend riding ATVs on paved roads over long distances.

Colorado had just two ATV fatalities on public roads between 2007 and 2011, according to the IIHS study. In comparison, Kentucky, which has slightly fewer residents than Colorado, topped the list with 122 fatalities over that period.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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