According to West Virginia University Extension Service experts, it’s a good time for hunters to brush up on all-terrain and utility-task vehicle safety before taking to the woods. Making time for ATV and UTV safety is a critical step to prevent accidents and fatalities and ensures hunters can make it back home or to camp.

It’s an important issue for West Virginia. According to WVU Extension Service Mingo County Agent Mark Whitt, who also heads up the Extension Service’s ATV Safety Program, the state is a national leader in ATV fatalities per capita.

However, he also added it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Safety is simple and doesn’t take a lot of effort — taking a rider education course and following manufacturer guidelines are the most impactful ways to prevent a catastrophic accident,” Whitt said.

The WVU Extension Service offers a free rider course for anyone who plans to operate an ATV or UTV this year as part of the ATV Safety Program, offered in conjunction with West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles and the American Safety Institute.

West Virginia residents interested in taking the course are encouraged to contact their local Extension office to take a class with local deputy sheriffs, Extension agents and other public service leaders trained to offer the courses.

Alternatively, riders are also encouraged to take the ATV Safety Institute’s free e-course at, which allows participants to mark a box indicating if the course is being taken through cooperative Extension programming.

Once well versed on proper technique and manufacturer guidelines, the next step is preparing and checking all components of the vehicle—including fuel, tires, brakes, battery, oil, steering, wheel lugs, tire chains and grips — to ensure a safe ride.

While beautiful, the West Virginia hills and terrain can offer unique challenges to riders. Whitt recommends that riders scout out the riding areas before operating ATVs and UTVs, as rocks, downed trees and uneven ground can cause rollovers and riders to be tossed from the vehicle.

When it comes to operating UTVs, riders need to be aware of the maximum capacity for the vehicle, never allow more passengers than there are seats and never carry passengers in a dump bed or cargo box.

“Handling characteristics for a UTV are much different than those of an ATV, truck or golf cart,” said Whitt. “Never carry more passengers or weight than stated in the manufacturer guidelines, and always keep hands and feet inside of the vehicle.”

Additional tips for a safe riding experience:
• Wearing a helmet is one of the simplest safety measures to take to reduce the likelihood of serious injury or fatality. Most ATV and UTV fatalities are the result of head trauma.
• Always have a working cell phone. Let someone know where you’re going and never ride by yourself.
• Wear a seatbelt and put the safety bar in tact if there is one in a UTV. Wear a helmet, goggles, long-sleeved shirt, over-ankle boots and gloves, just as a rider would with an ATV.
• Do not ride on paved surfaces. Head trauma caused by an ATV accident is most likely to occur on a paved surface. ATVs are designed for riding only on unpaved terrain, including dirt or gravel surfaces. No ATVs have tires approved for paved surfaces, which is where most fatal accidents occur.
• Always set the brake when parked to prevent rolling.
• When coming to intersections, look left and right before merging or making a turn.
• Never ride under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

The WVU Extension Service provides educational opportunities to local communities through offices in all 55 West Virginia counties. WVU Extension Service’s programs are accomplished in partnership with individuals, families, businesses, civic groups and governmental organizations statewide and throughout the nation.

To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.



CONTACT: Zane Lacko, WVU Extension Service

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