With more crashes involving ATVs and UTVs this past summer, state conservation wardens are urging all operators and riders to remember safety steps — including wear a helmet. 

Wisconsin has seen 20 fatal crashes involving ATVs and UTVs this year, including four in Oneida County. In at least 18 of those, the person who died was not wearing a helmet.

Last year there were 27 fatalities statewide, including three in Forest County and one in Iron County, but none in Vilas or Oneida counties. Only one of the people who died was wearing a helmet.

The most recent Oneida County ATV accident occur­red Sept. 1, when an  Illinois man was killed and another injured in the town of Stella.  The Oneida County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call of an ATV accident at 5:07 p.m. on Spring Drive in the town of Stella. According to authorities, a 50-year-old man was driving the ATV on Spring Drive when it left the roadway and struck a tree.

The other Oneida County ATV/UTV accidents occurred June 8 in the town of Pelican,  July 22 in the town of Newbold  and Aug. 14 in the town of Nokomis. Three of the four fatalities occurred on public roads, the other was on an off-trail area on private land.

Gary Eddy, off-highway administrative warden with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said wardens statewide are encouraging all operators and riders to “Wear it, Wisconsin!” in a safety campaign to limit fatalities as the fall riding season approaches.

“That means wearing helmets for ATVs and UTVs, and your seat belts on a UTV,” said Eddy.

Anyone younger than the age of 18 operating or a passenger of an ATV/UTV must wear a helmet and that helmet must meet U.S. Department of Transportation standards. Bicycle helmets do not meet this requirement.

Eddy said a common factor in fatalities is the lack of wearing helmets and not wearing the UTV seat belt.

“These machines are popular for work and for play, and their use continues to grow in Wisconsin,” said Eddy. “Since you can’t predict when an incident will occur, it is best to protect yourself and your passengers for that possibility. Simply put on the helmet, fasten the safety straps and click the seat belt.

“It is always important to remember safety while operating these vehicles for work or recreational purposes,” said Eddy. “These machines are often operated on paved surfaces and across rough terrain. These conditions bring their own set of hazards. That’s why the use of safety equipment is so important. Many of these tragedies may have been prevented had seat belts and helmets been used.”

Eddy urged all ATV and UTV owners to spread the “Wear it, Wisconsin!” message by setting a personal rule that helmets and seat belts are always used on their machines. He also wants riders to educate others they know on the importance of using helmets and seat belts.

“A little positive peer pressure on your family and friends can help,” said Eddy. “We want everyone to stay safe and have fun while using these versatile vehicles.” 

Some safety tips

Here are more of warden Eddy’s safety tips for all ATV/UTV riders:

• Never drink and ride. ATVs and UTVs are challenging enough to operate sober; adding alcohol endangers everyone around you. Practice “Zero Alcohol” and wait until you’re done operating all vehicles before consuming alcohol.

• “Seize the keys.” Control by whom and when your machine is being operated.

• Complete an ATV safety course. All ATV riders at least age 12 (and UTV operators at least age 16) and born after Jan. 1, 1988, must complete a course prior to operating an ATV or UTV. This course may be completed either in a classroom or on the internet. 

• Use extreme caution while operating on paved surfaces. ATVs and UTVs are highly unstable on paved surfaces and cannot be operated in the same manner as a car. All maneuvers must be made in a slow, controlled manner. Corners cannot be taken at the same speed as other motor vehicles.

• Never ride alone. If a mishap happens, you may need immediate help.

• Slow down, be responsible and expect to meet other people while on trails.

• Stay on the right side of the trail. Rough terrain and puddles are part of the experience; don’t endanger others by riding on the wrong side of the trail. Cross obstacles in a controlled and safe manner.

• Don’t operate your machine outside the limits or capabilities of you, the machine or the environment such as trail condition, terrain, hours of darkness, etc.

• Headlights and taillights are required at all times while on public roads. All turns must be indicated by use of turn signals or hand signals.

Youth safety

All ATV safety certified operators ages 12-15 must also be accompanied by an adult while operating on a designated ATV route except for operation for agricultural purposes with adult supervision.

All UTV operators at least age 16 and born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, must possess a valid ATV safety certificate issued by this state or any other state or province. Operators must be in possession of this certificate while operating in areas open to the public such as trails, routes and frozen waterways and display it to a law enforcement officer upon request. Certified operators may transport other passengers.

“ATV/UTV is among our state’s favorite recreational activities in the summer and fall months,” said Eddy. “Stay safe and stay responsible.”

For more information, visit dnr.wi.gov.