CHARLESTOWN, Ind. (WDRB) – Indiana Conservation Officers are warning adults and children to take safety precautions seriously when riding all-terrain vehicles, because more fatal ATV accidents are happening than in years past.

DNR’s District 8 records an average of 250 ATV accidents each year. But last year, there was a serious spike in fatalities. There were 23 deadly ATV crashes in 2016, compared to 16 the year before. There have been two fatal ATV accidents so far in 2017. So as you head out for a ride, ICO’s want you to take safety seriously.

ICO Jim Hash said first and foremost, they want adults and children to wear helmets and other safety gear. Helmets are currently optional in Indiana. But there’s a proposed bill that would require everyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while operating an ATV. And the bill could take it a step further.

"Some language that they're looking to get amended into the proposed bill is that if you're a parent and you allow your child or dependent under the age of 18 to operate an ATV without a helmet, then you can be held responsible,” Hash said.

ICO Jim Schreck also emphasized the importance of other safety gear like goggles, gloves, long sleeves and boots. They see injuries to arms and chests as people drive through woods or brush and get hit by limbs and branches.

And Schreck wanted to remind riders that ATVs are only made for one person. He explained the extra seat room is designed to help riders maneuver hills and terrain, not for someone to ride behind the driver.

"The seat on the ATV, it's really big," Schreck said. "A lot of folks will think, 'Hey, I can throw my girlfriend or my kids on there, or my buddy.' You'll notice there are stickers on any machine you buy. They're plastered all over these machines. They're not designed for carrying passengers."

And finally, Schreck and Hash expressed the importance of matching the size of the rider to the size of the ATV.

"One of the biggest mistakes is parents will throw their children on these and kind of use them as baby sitters,” Schreck said. “I mean, this here is upwards of 600 to 700 pounds. That's going to crush you and have devastating consequences if it flips over."

Hash added that children have less body weight and upper body strength, so "if they do happen to have some type of accident, or a rollover on that ATV, then there's no way for them to push that machine off of them. So they get entrapped or they get some kind of serious head injury."

According to DNR statistics, over 35 percent of the ATV accidents officers encounter involve operators under the age of 18. And Hash said the biggest concerns they have are the lack of helmets or safety equipment being used.

"We hear a lot of people say well I don't like to wear that because it doesn't look good,” Hash said. “Well if it can save your life, it doesn't matter how it looks. It's done its job."

Jamie Adkins is a sales associate at CC Powersports in Clarksville, Indiana, a store that sells ATVs and other vehicles like motorcycles. Adkins said he covers age restrictions, protective gear and safety with every customer looking at ATVs. He said the manufacturers usually require a customer to go through safety booklets to make a purchase.

“Number one piece of advice is take your time, learn the machine,” Adkins said. “That means hills, using breaking, how you associate your body and machine as far as balance. That’s where most of the injuries come on ATVs is in turnovers.”

Along with safety gear, Adkins said there are pieces of equipment for the ATV that could help save a life, too. Adding a safety kill switch could help stop the engine if a person flies off. And adding a flag to the back of the ATV helps with visibility on a road or trail.

“And a lot of people think because their kids rode or is great on a dirt bike ... that isn’t the same," he said. "It's not the same as an ATV. And there are age restrictions for a reason: to keep you safe."

If you have ATV safety-related questions, DNR offers an online class and video tutorials

And Schreck said you can still get a DUI on an ATV, and there is no blood alcohol content threshold. If you have had even one drink, you can get cited.

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