Dad with son riding a quad bike

In the summer months, heading off-road is a tradition for many Eastern Oregon families, but if you take your family out on ATVs make sure to do it safely. Local law enforcement and EMTs all report responding to calls involving youth and all-terrain vehicles. The power, speed, and lack of seatbelts can make the vehicles particularly dangerous for children, and even teens and adults should take safety precautions.

Many pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children under 16 should not use ATVs. The warning comes in light of a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission citing more than 26,000 children end up in a hospital emergency room each year because of ATV injuries. But enthusiasts insist using an ATV is safe if safety protocols are followed.

The CSPC recommends always wearing a helmet and other protective gear, not driving ATVs on paved roads, and not allowing children under 16 to drive or ride an adult ATV. The difference between a child and adult ATV is significant — most ATVs geared for children have a smaller engine size, lower power, and low speed. Some children’s ATVs will only reach a maximum speed of 6 miles per hour, while adult ATVs may hit 80 mph. No matter what ATV is used, drivers and passengers should wear quality helmets, eye protection, gloves, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, even in the summer.

The CSPC tracks ATV statistics and reports that the summer months — June, July, and August — typically have the highest number of all ATV-related fatalities, often because of head injuries. The most deadly locations are paved surfaces (32%) and unpaved roads (18%).

Wearing protective gear isn’t just a good idea, it’s a legal requirement. The state also requires anyone under 16 to be supervised when operating an ATV, and all riders under age 18 must wear a DOT-approved motorcycle helmet with the chinstrap fastened. All operators must also have an ATV Safety Education Card — and those under age 16 must have hands-on training. The only exceptions are for ATVs used exclusively for agriculture and operated on lands owned or leased by the owner of the vehicle.

When taking an ATV to forest roads, the foremost recommendation is to pick up motor vehicle use maps for the forest being visited. Maps helps identify the road and trail network, says Darcy Weseman, public affairs manager for the Umatilla National Forest. “I would highly encourage people to have those before they head out into the woods. These are free of charge and they’re available at any of our offices, or they can be downloaded onto a mobile device. That will allow people to know where they can legally ride on the forest.” In the state of Oregon, ATVs are managed under “off-highway vehicles.” Paved roads and two-lane gravel roads are closed to non-street legal OHVs unless otherwise posed.

Weseman’s second safety tip is to let others know where you plan to ride. “People should make sure they share with someone where they are going, and, if possible, to travel in pairs or with a group of people. Let people know your intended route and when you expect to be back,” she says. Before heading out, it’s also smart to contact the local forest office for most recent conditions — they can let you know if a trail is closed.

In Northeastern Oregon there are nine ATV areas administered by the BLM, Forest Service, and counties, including Upper Walla Walla, Mt. Fanny/Breshears, and Winom-Frasier. All of these have trails for a range of skill levels, from easy to more difficult. Riding tends to be better in the fall and spring, when dust is less of an issue. An interactive map of the state can be found online at www.rideatvoregon.org/wheretoride/view/dsp_wtr.cfm with details on all trails.


Jennifer Colton is news director of KOHU and KQFM, and mother of three, based in Pendleton.

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