In September the Oklahoma Highway Patrol found the body of 26-year-old Jay Derek Lee.  Lee died of a head injury sustained in an ATV accident on private property.  All Terrain Vehicles, commonly referred to as ATVs, have exploded in popularity in recent years.  ATVs are 3 or 4-wheeled motorized vehicles designed to handle a variety of different terrains and are typically used for recreational, off-road riding.  Unfortunately, ATV accidents are all too common with many of the victims being under the age of 16.

Why are ATVs so Dangerous?
In 1982 the number of reported ATV-related injuries was 10,100.  Since then the number of injuries has swelled significantly to over 150,000 in 2007.  In the same period the number of fatalities increased from 29 to 766.  25% of fatalities were children under the age of 16.

ATVs tend to be dangerous because unlike cars, they are open and do not have walls to protect the driver or passenger.  Thus, if there is an accident, the driver is often seriously injured or dies after being thrown from the ATV, or the driver is pinned underneath the ATV that has rolled over.  In addition, even though ATVs are designed to handle off-road travel, when driven at high speeds on uneven, bumpy terrains by inexperienced drivers, accidents are more likely to occur.

In addition, many do not view ATVs in the same manner as they view cars, trucks, or even motorcycles.  Many view ATVs as “fun” vehicles that are easy to use.  As a result, people are more likely to allow children to ride them with little supervision and few safety precautions.

While all 50 states have legislation aimed at increasing ATV safety, the laws vary considerably.   31 states require the use of helmets. Only 28 states have minimum age laws.  While some states have strict rules about using ATVs on public lands, they have little regulation of use on private property.  As a  consequence many accidents occur on private property and result in serious injury with many victims being children.

Liability in ATV accidents
A car accident attorney in Oklahoma points out that just like any other vehicle accident, liability in an ATV accident depends on the circumstances.  If the accident involves the ATV and another vehicle, then the negligent driver will be liable for any injury or damage that results from the accident.  If an accident occurs on private property that is poorly maintained or negligently maintained, resulting in the accident, then the property owner may be liable.

An accident attorney also notes that some ATVs have defects that make them prone to rollover or fail in other ways.  In recent years there have been numerous defective product lawsuits settled against ATV manufacturers, including multiple lawsuits against the Yamaha Motor Corp. concerning its line of Rhino ATVs. If a defect caused the accident, the victim may be able to recover damages from the manufacture of the ATV in a product liability lawsuit.

ATVs are similar to cars in many ways and can be just as dangerous as cars if not operated properly.   Do you think that the operation of ATVs should be regulated in a similar manner as cars? Should there be licensing, registration, and safety requirements regardless of whether they are driven on public roads or private property?