Youth ATV Safety

ATV Safety Course Photo

(Photo Source: Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, ATV Safety Institute)

Use the following format to cite this article:

Youth ATV safety. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Youth operate all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on farms and ranches and for recreational use. ATVs can be useful for work and a fun mode of transportation; however, injuries from ATV incidents continue to be problematic for farm and rural youth. In 2008, more than 37,000 youth under the age of 16 were treated in hospital emergency rooms across the country due to ATV-related injuries (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

Many of these incidents can be prevented by evaluating the youth’s readiness to operate an ATV by:

  • identifying the correct size of ATV;
  • using personal protective equipment;
  • giving the youth safety instruction, and
  • providing adult supervision. 

Adult supervision of youth ATV operators is essential to ensure that the youth adheres to rules, wears the proper protective equipment, and correctly operates the ATV. Controls such as throttle limiters, exhaust restrictors, and remote shut-off switches are available to assist adults when regulating beginning ATV operators.

Youth Readiness and Size of ATV

Children under 6 should never be on an ATV, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most ATVs are labeled with a recommended age for that model. The recommended ages for Y-6 models (under 70cc engines) are 6 to 11 years old. The Y-12 models (70 to 90 cc engines) are 12 to 15 years old. However, some states many have specific rules regarding allowable age for operation of ATVs, so it is important to check your state for rules, and while the actual age is the easiest to identify, it should not be the only factor in determine when youth can ride.

Children develop at different rates, so consider each child’s cognitive and physical development when making a decision about their ability to operate an ATV. Cognitive and emotional development is related to the youth’s reasoning ability, memory, discipline, focus, and decision-making skills. Do not overestimate your child’s abilities when it comes to making decisions that will affect his safety. When assessing your child’s cognitive development, determine her level of discipline and her understanding of cause and effect. Be sure that your child understands that if his behavior is unsafe or reckless, the consequence may be an injury or death. Discuss safety scenarios with your youth to ensure that he can provide sensible and safe reactions to the situation.

Physical development includes the youth’s size, strength, visual acuity, and coordination. The following are a few measures you can take to determine if your child is physically ready to operate an ATV:

  • If your child stands on the footrests of the ATV with his hands on the handle bar, are there at least 3 inches of clearance between the ATV seat and the seat of the child’s pants?
  • Can your child operate the throttle and brake lever with one hand?
  • Can your child shift the weight of the ATV side to side by shifting her weight? 

Youth should only operate a four-wheeled ATV because these are more stable and present less risk for a side overturn compared to a three-wheeled ATV.

For beginning riders, choose an ATV with a single speed automatic transmission, and do not equip the ATV with a carrier rack. A load on a carrier rack can shift and possibly alter the ATV’s center of gravity and decrease its stability. There is only one seat for the operator; therefore, passengers are not permitted on an ATV. The following chart is a guideline for the most appropriate-sized ATV engine compared to the youth’s age.  

Figure 1: Operator Age and ATV Engine Size
Age of Operator ATV Engine Size
Under 6 years of age No operation recommended
Age 6 to 11 Under 70cc
Age 12 to 15 70 – 90cc
16 years and older Over 90cc

Different Sized ATVs

Different Sized ATVs. Photo Source: Penn State Ag Safety & Health

(Left to right: 700cc, 90cc, and 50cc. Photo Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)


Protective Gear for ATV Operators

The most important piece of personal protective equipment for an operator is a helmet approved for ATV use.  Helmets should be the correct size for the operator and approved for ATV use by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), U.S. Department of Transportation, or the Snell Memorial Foundation to ensure that it has been safety tested. If the helmet is not equipped with a face shield, wear an ANSI-approved pair of goggles or glasses with hard-coated polycarbonate lenses. When operating an ATV, the child should also wear gloves, boots, long-sleeved shirt or jacket, and long pants.

Maintenance, Specifications, and Operation

Teach your youth the location of the following ATV parts: parking brake, brakes, throttle, engine stop switch, and shift lever (if equipped). Prior to operating the ATV, follow these steps:

  • Check the air pressure in the tires, controls and cables, ignition switch, and oil and fuel levels.
  • Lubricate chains and/or drive-shaft chassis. 
  • Make sure that all nuts and bolts are tightly secured. 

Teach youth the acronym BONE-C which outlines the following steps to properly start an ATV:

  1. BBrake – Make sure the parking brake is set.
  2. OOn – The ignition and fuel are on.
  3. NNeutral – ATV should be started in neutral (if equipped)
  4. EEngine – The stop switch should be in the run or start position.
  5. CChoke – Choke should be on when starting a cold engine. 

Safety Instruction

Youth should learn to safely operate an ATV in an approved safety training program. 

Click HERE to be directed to to do an online ATV safety training. provides safety information, legislation regarding ATV use, state-specific information about regulations, and contact information for ATV safety training for adults and teens.  

Click HERE to be directed to the ATV Safety Institute for more information about ATV safety and safety training classes in your area.

Click HERE to view a below from the ATV Safety Institute to learn more about their ATV safety training classes.

Additional Safety Recommendations

  • Check your riding area to make sure it is free from hazards such as rocks, stumps, branches, and fences.
  • Know and obey the laws in your area related to ATV operation.
  • Ask permission before riding on private property.
  • Use lights, reflectors, and flags to increase the ATV’s visibility.
  • Do not show off, perform stunts, or speed.
  • ATV tires are not designed for road travel so avoid public roads and paved surfaces because road travel affects the handling and control of the ATV. 
  • Keep the feet on the footrests at all times.
  • Remember that certain ATV parts such as the engine, exhaust pipe, and muffler are hot and can cause burns.
  • Keep the hands and feet away from all moving parts on the ATV.
  • Maintain proper riding posture to help properly operate the controls.   


  • Click HERE to be directed to the Youth Agricultural Work Guidelines that provides questions designed to help you determine whether your child is ready to operate an ATV or UTV and have a positive agricultural work experience. 
  • Click HERE to be directed to the Children’s Safety Network’s publication titled ‘Focus on All-Terrain Vehicle Safety: Resource Guide 2012’.




Use the following format to cite this article:

Youth ATV safety. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from



2008 annual report of ATV-related deaths and injuries. (2010). Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved from

Youth agricultural work guidelines. (2017)National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. Retrieved from

Murphy, D. & Harshman, W. (2005). ATVs and youth: Matching children and vehicles. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Parents, youngsters, and all-terrain vehicles (2010) ATV Safety Institute. Retrieved from….

Schwab, C., Miller, L. & Satre, S. (2008) ATV safety for farm work, recreation. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Safe Farm. Retrieved from


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
S. Dee Jepson, Ohio State University – 
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – (Has since retired)
Michael Pate, Pennsylvania State University –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –