Riding For Safety
Friday, December 17, 2021
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Few things in life can be as thrilling as swinging a leg over an all-terrain vehicle, pressing down on the throttle, and feeling the wind beat against your face.
However, even with the sense of thrill and fun, ATVs cause 18 to 24 deaths each year in Oklahoma. Ninety percent of ATV crashes were drivers under the age of 16 who are driving an adult-sized ATV too big for them to control, according to The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital.
Jim Rhodes saw this problem and decided to do something about it. Rhodes serves as the Oklahoma ATV youth safety educator for Oklahoma State University Extension and receives financial support from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.
On Aug. 24, 2020, Rhodes hosted the first ATV Youth Riders Course for youth ages 10 to 18. Now, more than 50 classes later, the program has reached more than 300 youth.
“As I read the newspaper and saw the number of accidents from ATVs that were happening, I knew something needed to be done to help the kids,” Rhodes said.
The ATV Youth Riders Course includes an online course that takes about two hours to complete. The online course teaches students they should only ride ATVs on dirt, gravel or grass, not paved roads.
The course explains the personal protection equipment, or PPE, that should be worn while riding an ATV as well as how to plan their rides.
After the online course is completed, students can attend the riding portion of the course.
The riding portion of the course can be done in Guthrie, Oklahoma, at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau/Oklahoma 4-H ATV Training Facility, or the facilitators can host the hands-on training close to participating youth’s location.
During the riding portion of the class, the students complete 11 different exercises on a size-appropriate ATV, starting with basic maneuvers and working their way up to more complex ones.
The facilitators teach different controls on the ATV, how to make regular and sharp turns safely, addressing difficult obstacles, how to shift weight during turns, and the use of proper techniques while riding over hills.
“As kids ride our course, you can see their confidence level increase,” Rhodes said. “We have kids who show up and have never ridden an ATV, and then we have kids who own an ATV and ride all the time.
“The course takes those kids with zero experience and gives them the confidence level and knowledge to ride an ATV after they’re done,” he added.
PPE is a critical part of safe ATV riding, Rhodes said.
Wearing gloves, long sleeves, boots that go over the ankle, long pants, goggles, and a helmet are important to safe riding, he added.
Rhodes secured a grant from the Southwest Ag Center, worth more than $20,000 to purchase full-face helmets for participants if they complete the course at the Oklahoma Farm Bureau/Oklahoma 4-H ATV Training Facility.
Each helmet is valued at $120, Rhodes said, and he hopes having a helmet will encourage youth to wear it while riding ATV at home.
Brayden Arnall, a sixth-grader at Stillwater Middle School, took the ATV Youth Riders Course last year in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
“My favorite part of the course was getting to ride the ATVs on the trail and getting to see all the nature,” Brayden said. “I would recommend this class to my friends or anyone who wants to ride an ATV. It’s important to know how to ride an ATV and how to be safe.”
Having already owned an ATV, Brayden learned about being safe while riding his ATV as well as techniques and maneuvers to perform while going up hills or making sharp turns, he said.
Brayden received one of the helmets and said he now wears it every time he gets on his ATV.
Throughout Oklahoma, the ATV Youth Riders Course has six Extension educators and three Farm Bureau employees who are ATV Safety Institute, or ASI, certified.
These certified facilitators host programs for kids throughout Oklahoma. They also can host other groups interested in this course and offer leadership building activities, Rhodes said.
“The facilitators do a phenomenal job of teaching safety techniques and what the impact would be if they don’t follow proper safety protocol,” said Courtney Arnall, Brayden’s mother. “That was helpful for them to learn the technique and understand what could happen and why it’s important to be safe while riding.”
Courses are offered year-round but are dependent on the weather. If students live within two hours of Guthrie, Rhodes recommends coming to the Oklahoma Farm Bureau/Oklahoma 4-H ATV Training Facility to participate in their course and receive their free helmet.
However, facilitators can schedule a date to go to the students’ area to complete the hands-on riding course.
Rhodes can book up to two groups of eight students in one day, hosting one in a morning and one in a afternoon, he said.
“You don’t know if you’ve prevented an accident, but you hope you have,” Rhodes said. “When you do a safety program, it’s hard to determine what the impact is.
“If they can ride safely at home, using what they learn here, I know I’ve made at least a small impact,” Rhodes added. “That’s my goal.”
Story By: Andrea Vandever-Moore | Cowboy Journal