BOISE, Idaho (PRESS RELEASE) -- Off-road vehicles are not safe for transporting children, cautions Idaho Child Passenger Safety Statewide Coordinator Carma McKinnon. While popular with families across the country for both recreation and work purposes, ATVs and UTVs are simply not designed to keep children onboard safe.

ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles that are also known as quads, and UTVs, or utility-task vehicles that are also called side-by-sides or recreational off-road vehicles (ROVs), are dangerous for children because they are heavy, used on uneven terrain, and provide little to no protection for passengers.

“The fact that they are often used contrary to recommendations is also a factor,” said McKinnon. “Allowing children to drive heavy, powerful machines made for adults, carrying passengers on one-person vehicles, and failing to wear a helmet are common problems.”

“And, a more common risk factor is using these off-road vehicles on paved surfaces,” she added.

Both ATVs and UTVs have four wheels, can operate at speeds exceeding 65 mph, and are manufactured for off-road use.

ATVs are typically one-person vehicles. The driver straddles an ATV, similar to a motorcycle rider, and uses the handlebars to steer. The basic design of ATVs limits ability to provide a safe way for children to ride as a passenger.

UTVs have seats more like a car, with the driver sitting upright and using a steering wheel. These vehicles have seats that are side-by-side for a driver and a passenger. Some also have back seats for as many as five total occupants.

UTVs also have a few added safety features such as a roll bar and lap-shoulder belts for each seating position, however, ATVs do not have these features.

But what does a Child Passenger Safety Technician say to a family who wants advice or assistance installing a child restraint on a UTV which has seat belts?  McKinnon stated that it was not uncommon for the presence of seat belts on these vehicles to lead some families to believe they can install a restraint for small children. That is despite manufacturers’ advice that all occupants be tall enough to place their feet on the floorboard while their back is against the seatback.

McKinnon said, “The bottom line is child restraints are not approved to use in UTVs.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that, in 2014, 93,700 patients were treated in emergency rooms for injuries involving ATVs, and that 26 percent of these were children under 16 years old. The CPSC has just begun gathering UTV data, but official statistics have not been released.

The CPSC recommends the following safety precautions when using ATVs or UTVs (which the group calls ROVs).

  • Don’t drive either of these off-road vehicles on paved roads.
  • All drivers and passengers should wear a helmet, as well as other protective gear such as eye protection, gloves and clothing that covers the body.
  • The number of occupants should not exceed the number of seats. For ATVS, this means no passengers.
  • Drivers should take a hands-on safety training course.
  • Children under 16 should not drive a UTV or adult ATV.

Idaho’s law requires that ATV and UTV occupants under 18 wear helmets.

Other precautions that should be taken include always fastening the safety belt, keeping all body parts inside the vehicle, and never carrying passengers in the cargo area.