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By: Matt Finley

ATV Size Restrictions Based on Child's Age Instead of Size and Experience

The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee is considering a bill that would limit the size of an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that children under the age of 16 are allowed to operate on public land, regardless of the child's size, riding experience and terrain. The bill would also require children be at least 16 years-old to operate an ATV on public land if not being accompanied by an adult.

SB 1228 would prohibit a child under age 12 from operating an ATV that is of a size that displaces more than 70 cubic centimeters (cc) and prohibits a child from age 12 through 15 from operating an ATV that is of a size that displaces more than 90cc. Aside from the fact that the bill's author, falsely claims that the data it is using to base its claims on from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is not available for the last several years, where ATV related accidents have gone down. The notion restricting a child's ability to ride a certain sized ATV based on age alone is impractical, dangerous, and unfair.

SB 1228 was requested by the California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and in particular Dr. Larry Foreman, an emergency room physician at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital in San Luis Obispo County. It states, rightfully so, that young children are not physically strong enough to safely operate an adult-sized ATV. It also claims that children do not have the necessary motor skills and coordination needed, or the physical size required to operate an ATV. This is any size ATV, not just the adult ones.

That is simply not true.

Children develop physically, mentally, and emotionally at different rates and to different levels. Every parent that has more than one child knows this. There is absolutely no way the politicians who are pushing SB 1228 can know how big every kid is, or how long they've been riding, or even what kind of terrain on which they will be riding. These are all very important criteria when you consider the size of an ATV a kid can and should be riding.

My 5 year-old son, for example, has been riding for 3 years now. He started out jumping curbs on an electric quad when he was 2. He's pushing 50-lbs. already, is as strong as an ox, and is almost as tall as his 10 year-old cousin. Now he's a very capable rider on his 50cc quad. Imagine when he's 11 years- old, pushing 120-lbs., riding a 70cc quad that wouldn't take him up the driveway, let alone up the dunes safely.

The skills required to ride an ATV safely are very similar to those of riding a motorcycle, yet there are no restrictions for children riding off-highway motorcycles on public land. I think part of the reason there is so much attention being given to all terrain vehicles being ridden by kids is that it's much easier to start riding an ATV than it is a motorcycle.  Therefore, more kids are doing it, and some parents don't bat an eye thinking their kids will be safe.

How was your first experience on a motorcycle? Did you crash or just scare yourself early on? Whatever it was, you knew that thing was dangerous, didn't you? You knew if you put a wheel wrong, stopped paying attention, or goofed off, your head would be on the ground in a New York second. You respected that motorcycle, didn't you?

How was your first experience on a quad? You probably hopped on, burned rubber, and tossed a bunch of dirt all over as you sped off with a big-assed smile on your face because you knew you were in control of that ATV. And every time you rode it, you were more in control. You didn't respect the quad. It gave you no reason to. Not yet.

The problem is that once you cross the line between simply cruising and all-out riding it to it's real potential, it's a whole different style of riding. You're not just sitting there and hanging on any more. You're leaning, sliding, and hanging off the side. You're throwing your weight around getting it to pitch through that corner instead of tossing you off into the weeds. You're staying off the pavement because you know at high speed a quad's balloon tires will grab the ground and flip you over on your butt just like that.

People don't realize how different an ATV is to ride when you cross between simply putting around and riding it the way it was intended to be ridden. If you don't know how that beast will react when you open it up, you will surely be in for a rude awakening. If you let your kids just jump on and ride away, you're not only endangering his/her life, you're making the rest of us somewhat responsible parents look just as bad even though our kids have been taught as they grew.

Here's the bottom line . . . those of us who are responsible parents are going to be punished for those parents who are not responsible because of SB1228. Common, non-riding folks do not understand why on God's green Earth I would let my 5 year-old ride a gas-powered vehicle, and they think I'm a terrible parent. And then you have the newbies. They see people like you and I who have our children on machines that our children have worked their way up to, and they run out and throw their own inexperienced children on the same size machine as our experienced kids . . . and what happens? An injury can happen. That stat just gave the rest of the responsible ATV Community a black eye.

If you're a parent of a child that rides, you should pay close attention to this bill. You can follow the progression of this bill as it is revised and updated by following the URL below and subscribing at the bottom with your email address.

Click here for SB 1228 Bill Document

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