I didn't give it a second thought at the time. Now I look back and wonder how I could've been so stupid.
It was early July, and my family and I were putting in food plots. After hand-broadcasting a brassica blend, we were dragging box springs from an old mattress to push the seed into the soil.
The railroad ties we'd attached to the springs weren't heavy enough, so I asked my 14-year-old nephew to sit on the springs - as I drove across the plot with him and the makeshift drag behind my all-terrain vehicle.
Thankfully, my nephew wasn't injured. And truth be told, I'm sure many other deer hunters have cut similar safety corners. ATVs and UTVs (for simplicity's sake, I'll refer to both types of vehicles as ATVs) are used for much more than transporting hunters and deer. They come in handy hauling stands and other such equipment and when establishing and maintaining food plots. Today's ATVs are high-tech machines that help hunters accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently.
But like any other tool, they also can be dangerous. Thousands of folks are seriously injured each year, and too many killed, while using ATVs. Let's take a closer look at the problem and how hunters can use these vehicles more safely and effectively.
Credit: North American Whitetail
According to the ATV Safety Institute, there are more than 11 million ATVs in the U.S. alone. While the vast majority of owners use their machines for recreational riding, 22 percent use them for farm work, hauling equipment and/or establishing and maintaining food plots for wildlife.
In 2011 (the latest year for which data are available), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 327 people died in ATV-related accidents, including 10 under the age of 13. More than 100,000 others were treated in hospital emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries. Two-thirds of ATV accidents occur on roads.
"A big part of the problem is that these vehicles are not designed for use on public roads," says Anne McCartt, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) senior vice-president for research. "The other part is, you often see risky behavior among drivers in these fatal crashes. Only 13 percent of them were wearing a helmet."
Between 2007 and 2011, the IIHS found that 1,701 ATV riders died in crashes on public roads. Kentucky had the most deaths (122), while West Virginia had the highest death rate per 10 million people (105).
An alarming trend is the number of accidents involving those of age 16 or under. The Mayo Clinic reports children account for one-third of ATV-related emergency room visits and one-quarter of the deaths. To put this into perspective, more children die or are injured in ATV mishaps than in bicycle accidents.
Why? "Kids are operating machines that are built for adults," says CPSC spokesperson Carl Purvis.
Federal law prohibits the direct sale of adult ATVs to children, but the CPSC found 31 percent of all dealers guilty of making such sales in 2011. And families often purchase adult-sized machines for their children, ignoring the warning stickers found on all brands of ATVs.
Bob Hartwood's 14-year-old son was driving across a cut corn field at high speed when he hit an unseen rock and was thrown from the machine. He's now paralyzed from the waist down.
"We just figured that he'd grow into it," Bob says. "It didn't really occur to us that the ATV was probably too big for our son to handle."
Other common reasons accidents occur include multiple riders on ATVs built for one person, riders not wearing proper safety gear (boots, gloves, helmet, full pants and long-sleeved shirt) and operators lacking training and/or experience.
Manufacturers are required to offer a hands-on ATV safety course, but most states don't mandate them. Only North Carolina requires anyone born after 1990 to pass an ATV safety program before operating one.
Most ATV accidents and deaths are easily preventable by taking a few safety precautions. Buying age-appropriate machines for minors, always wearing a helmet and staying off public roads all substantially lower the risk of being killed or injured.
Of course, we deer hunters use ATVs in many ways. We haul equipment, work food plots, etc. So let's look at some other practical measures that can keep more of us safe along the way.
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