All-terrain vehicles popular and dangerous in Northern California

All terrain vehicles, or ATVs, are popular with ranchers as well as recreational riders, and are used for off-roading in the wilds of Mendocino County and elsewhere. California even has an Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Department as part of the State Parks which regulates ATV use on public land.

Puffy tires on a big tricycle

The unique original three-wheel design of the vehicles allowed ATVs to go where others could not, but also created an inherent instability when coupled with their high center of gravity. Previously sellers were often sued over this design defect and their failure to warn about it when riders flipped over or lost control due to sudden instability.

Manufacturers voluntarily changed from three-wheel to four-wheel ATVs before regulations required it, and the vehicles have become more stable. However, the very nature of their use on rocky areas and up hills contributes to injuries.

California leads in ATV deaths

A Consumer Product Safety report names California as the state where the most deaths from ATV accidents occur, accounting for 628 out of the nearly 12,000 between 1982 and 2011 in the U.S. A quarter of the deaths around the nation were children 15 and under, and almost half of those were under age 12.

Since 1997, the rate of ATV injuries in the U.S. has gone up by a whopping 240 percent, despite the efforts of lawmakers and private groups to educate and pass safety laws for ATV use. Modern ATVs dwarf the original models which had a fraction of the horsepower available today. This leads to high-energy trauma, not just bumps and bruises. Spinal injuries, punctured lungs, fractures and head injuries have been caused by serious ATV accidents.

California's comprehensive ATV law focuses on children

In response to the number of injuries and deaths from ATV accidents, California enacted as part of its Vehicle Code sections detailing the requirements of safe operation and regulation of ATV training schools and instructors. Several provisions set the rules for use by minors.

In 2006 the California legislature added a provision to make it a violation for anyone to allow a minor under the age of 14 to ride an ATV on public land without being accompanied by and supervised by an adult with a state-issued safety certificate. Fines range from $125 for a first offense up to $500 for a third conviction.

Education and supervision is key

One recent tragedy involved two brothers age eight and six who were killed in an ATV accident. The Mendocino Sheriff's office and the California Highway Patrol conducted an investigation into the accident, which occurred along a trail away from established roads.

What seems clear from reports is that the boys were both out on the ATV without supervision, since their mother was the one who discovered them after the accident. Experts and advocacy groups all agree that taking training courses as provided under California law and refraining from carrying passengers or being a passenger will help to stem the tide of death and injuries from ATV use.

Protect your right to seek compensation

When a loved one is injured or killed while riding an ATV, you may not know where to turn. An attorney experienced in California law can help you weigh your options and determine if a law has been broken by the provider of the ATV or the landowner where the accident occurred. The ATV manufacturer may also bear some responsibility if the proper warnings were not given to the eventual user.