Is it legal for my child to ride an ATV?

Recently, we got this great question from Facebook:

"Not to be a party pooper, but when did it become advisable/legal for 5 year olds to ride ATVs? I was considering one for my son who was 8 at the time and the Yamaha/Honda dealer said that it was a bad idea considering the fact he could flip it and have it land on him. Made sense the way it was explained to me. What do state and federal laws mandate Family Go Karts?"

This comes up almost every day here at FamilyGoKarts. It's a great question because it shows that parents care about their childrens' safety, and we love it when we see parents putting safety first.

Putting a 5 year old on an ATV is not a decision to be taken lightly. This is something our phone staff regularly covers with customers buying ATVs for kids. In a nutshell, there is no clear answer and opinions vary widely. We recommend three resources when making this decision; legal requirements, manufacturer information and common sense.

ATVs and the Law

From a legal perspective, the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says flat out that no one under the age of 16 should ride an ATV. You can read more about the CPSC ATV Safety Guidelines here:
http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Sports-Fitness-and-Recreation/All-Terrain-Vehicle-Safety/

The Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 give significant enforcement power to the CPSC over the manufacturing and sale of ATVs intended for use by children. Read more at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Product_Safety_Act
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Product_Safety_Improvement_Act

However, since ATVs don't use federal highway systems to operate, the federal government cannot regulate their use, so the CPSC's recommendations on who can ride aren't necessarily binding. On the other hand, individual states can and do regulate ATV use. Almost all states have laws in place and many allow young riders with certain stipulations; like always wearing a helmet, only riding while supervised and sometimes engine CC size limitations. Several states have very restrictive laws regarding age limits. North Carolina, for example, requires a child be at least 8 years old before they can ride... no exceptions. You should definitely check your state's regulations before buying an ATV for your child. The National Council of State Legislatures website is a great resource. They maintain a list of state ATV laws at:
http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/all-terrain-vehicle-safety-laws-by-state.aspx

Also, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA) maintains a report of state all-terrain vehicle requirements that can be found here:
http://www.atvsafety.org/downloads/Summary_Chart_February_2014.pdf

Manufacturer Recommendations

Second, ATV manufacturers really do put a lot of emphasis on safe design and use of their vehicles. In the late 1980's, due to an increase in the number of ATV related injuries and deaths (particularly with reference to three-wheelers), the CPSC, along with the combined assistance of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the SVIA, developed and adopted a voluntary standard for ATVs. The standard was approved in 1990 and revised and reissued in 2001 as ANSI/SVIA-1-2001. In addition to including specifications for things like fuel cutoff devices, lighting and brakes, the standard also covers pitch stability, speed capability and speed limiting devices. As a result, modern ATVs are engineered to be very stable and are powered and sized appropriately for the intended age range and size of the rider. So, while those Manufacturer's Minimum Recommended Age Requirement stickers and all the other safety stickers you see on ATVs aren't binding, they also are not just arbitrary recommendations. Every parent should consider what the manufacturer says the ATV can do and who it is appropriate for. For more on this history, see:
https://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/84803/atv2006_3.pdf

Your Common Sense

Last but certainly not least is your own common sense. No matter how many laws or guidelines there may be, there is simply no substitute for a parent's discretion. By far, most ATV injuries occur when parents fail to use common sense when putting their child on an ATV. For example, most child ATV deaths result from children riding ATVs that are far too large for them.

Remember, there's nothing "magical" about an age number that somehow makes an ATV safe for a kid of that age. Just because your 7 year old has a birthday and turns 8, doesn't necessarily mean he is suddenly capable of handling an ATV labled for 8 year olds. Every child is unique. Parents should consider each child's development, skills and fundamental abilities individually, including physical size and strength, coordination and athleticism, mental maturity level and how well they obey. Let's face it, some 6 year olds are as big and strong as other 8 year olds. On the other hand, a kid may be big enough to handle a certain ATV but have a carefree, "daredevil" attitude that makes them less capable than a much smaller, but more even tempered child. Only parents know these things about their children.

Parents should also consider where the child will be riding, the terrain they will be riding on, the maximum speed of the vehicle and what safety, limiting and parental control features are available on the vehicle.

If you feel your child is not ready for a gas powered ATV, you might want to consider one of the newer electric powered models that have recently come on the market. These models offer a nice intermediate step between real ATVs and the plastic ride-on toys like the Peg Perego and Fisher-Price Power Wheels brands that are commonly found in department stores. Most kids electric ATVs feature the same welded steel frames, pneumatic tires and full suspensions and braking systems found on big, rugged ATVs, but are powered by a 12 or 24 volt electric motor that can be limited to as low as 5 mph. See the complete line at:
Electric ATVs for kids

At FamilyGoKarts, we recommend kids only ride ATVs designed specifically for children and only upon the parent's careful consideration and constant supervision and only in accordance with local, state and any other applicable regulations. Additionally, kids should only ride ATVs that include safety features like speed limiters, remote control shut-off or tethered shut-off switches, and controlled access via a keyed ignition, as well as brush guards and seat harnesses on applicable vehicles like go-karts and UTVs.

Regardless the rider's age, we recommend everyone take a course in rider safety through an organization such as ATVSafety.org. For more information and to enroll, see:
http://atvsafety.org/OnlineEnroll.aspx

Finally, always wear a helmet and protective clothing. And it's worth saying again... never allow children to ride unsupervised.