Kids ATV Safety Tips

A kids' ATV can be a lot of fun, but it's also a tremendous responsibility, both for the child and for the parents. An ATV is the first motorized vehicle that kids can operate. While ATVs for kids may not be as powerful as adult models, they still come with risks, so you and your child need to be prepared.

Is Your Child Ready?
Kids as young as six years old can reach the controls on a kids' ATV. That doesn't mean they're ready to ride. While 50cc ATVs have lower power and a much lower top speed, they can still cause serious injuries. You need to be certain that your child has a strong sense of responsibility, the ability to anticipate dangerous situations, a knowledge of what an ATV can and cannot do and the willingness to follow your rules to the letter before you allow her to use an ATV.

An ATV is not a toy and it's not a vehicle that can go anywhere. Explain the dangers of falling off, rollovers and crashes. It's often a good idea to wait until a child has learned to ride a bike confidently and safely before you let him operate an ATV.

Choosing an ATV
If you are purchasing an ATV for your child, make sure that the child fits the ATV. She should be able to place both feet flat on the footrests, and her fingers should be able to reach the handlebars and use the brake lever, even if the handlebars are turned.

The best ATVs for kids are 50cc electric models. These have less power than gasoline models, but they're also much quieter and don't produce any exhaust. They're also easier to operate, because they have an electric ignition, which means no choke or fuel valve to master.

Physical Preparation
Your child needs enough strength to squeeze the hand controls, shift the bike, work the brakes, operate the choke and fuel valve and press the brake lever with enough pressure to stop the ATV. This takes more strength than the controls on a bicycle. Your child should also know where all of the controls are, so that they can be operated without looking.

In order for your child to safely ride an ATV, he must have good coordination. If he cannot walk a four-inch wide beam that is eight feet long while flat on the floor, he does not have enough coordination to drive the ATV. Other activities that show sufficient coordination include riding a bicycle, roller skating, walking on tiptoes for 10 feet and catching a ball with the hands, rather than the arms.

A child also needs enough endurance to maintain strength over a period of time. Your child should be able to participate in indoor games without tiring before other children of her age. She should be able to play games outside without getting tired.

Your child's eyesight and recognition abilities also need to be strong. He should be able to recognize letters and numbers, distinguish colors and have good depth perception. To test for depth perception, have your child look at two objects in the distance and tell you which one is farther away. 

Other safety factors include peripheral vision and the ability to judge the speed of objects, follow a path of movement and follow a moving object while manipulating it by hand, such as bouncing a basketball.

Safe Learning
Before your child's first ride, go over the necessary safety equipment. This includes long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a helmet, sturdy boots or shoes, safety goggles and gloves. Never let your child on the ATV without the proper equipment. Note that for kids, an open-faced helmet and goggles are a better choice than helmets with visors, because they allow the child to see to the left and right more easily.

Check your ATV insurance as well, to make sure your child is covered. In some cases, you'll need separate coverage for young riders.

For the first few rides, find a flat, open space, such as a soccer or football field. Make sure there are no sudden drops or large rocks that could cause a bumpy ride. Let your child get a feel for the vehicle by driving forward and practicing turns at different speeds. Once your child has the basics down, ask him to ride in a tight circular pattern, followed by a figure eight. Have your child practice these drills several times over the course of a few weeks before you start looking for off-road terrain to explore.

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