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By: CJ Rena Johnson

Crash Course in Crash Prevention


Never Ride Above Your Experience Level
Never Ride Above Your Experience Level

Heading up the Hill

ATV and dirt bike accidents can result in serious injury or even death. We’ve all seen the headlines. It is a story we hear all too often. However, most of the more common reasons for these accidents can be avoided by following just a few simple rules and suggestions.

ASI Safety Course

The first thing to consider when buying an ATV or dirt bike is enrolling in an ASI safety course. This is an excellent way to educate yourself and is now required in many states. The good news is that when you purchase your new vehicle, most manufacturers offer a certificate to take the course for free. The even better news is a lot of them will even give you cash back to take the course! If you didn’t buy your vehicle new, there is still a chance you can get a free course if the previous owner didn’t take it. Even if in a worst case scenario, you have to pay for the course, it is still a lot less expensive than a trip to the ER!

Go to for more information on these courses.

Safety Gear

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned rider, you always need to wear the recommended protective gear. If you haven’t had some sort of accident while riding, you just haven’t been riding long enough because you will. They happen to the best and worst of us. Always be prepared for the accident, so you can enjoy the ride again and again.

For ATVs, the minimal recommended safety gear includes a DOT approved helmet, ankle high boots, goggles, long pants, long sleeve shirt, and gloves. If you are riding a dirt bike, add a chest protector to this mix.

Vehicle Check

Check your vehicle before heading out to the trail to make sure it is in proper working order.

  • Brakes: Test the brakes to make sure they will stop the vehicle but are not sticking when you use them. Check the brake fluid, also.
  • Throttle: Make sure it turns or moves freely and returns completely to off position when released.
  • Loose Cables: Check for loose cables or wires and repair as necessary.
  • Shifter: Like the brake, you need to make sure it moves freely when you engage it and returns to the correct position when released.
  • Tire Pressure: Be sure all tires have the manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure. Improper tire pressure can cause poor handling and even make your ATV feel “out of alignment.”
  • Gas: Make sure you have sufficient gas for the trip you are planning to make before you hit the trail. There are not a lot of gas stations along the trail.
  • Chain or Belt: Check the drive train belt or chain and make sure it is secure and not to loose.
  • Fluids: Top off all fluids. As with any motor, running out of something like oil is never a good thing. Check for leaks as well as this can be a sign of a problem.
  • Headlights: If headlights are provided on your vehicle, make sure they work properly before you “go too far before it gets dark.” Night riding takes on a whole new meaning when you have no lights to even find the trail.
  • Loose Nuts or Bolts: Nuts and bolts can be jarred loose at any time during riding. Check each time before you head out to make sure you do not have any loose screws of any kind, on your vehicle, that is.

Loading and Unloading

Trailers can be simple or tricky

Trail Signs
Always be aware of the tail signs.

Combination of Terrain
Combination of Terrain

When using ramps, make sure they are approved for ATV & dirt bike use and attach them securely to your vehicle.  A loose ramp can kick back and end your day before you even leave your driveway.

Securely fasten your ATV or dirt bike to your trailer or truck. Even a ¼ ton ATV will bounce around a lot more during transport than you might think.

Most OHV parks have loading ramps, but many state parks do not. Always be prepared with ramps of your own if needed.


Learn the controls of your vehicle before going out on the trail including throttle, brakes, gear shifter, steering, and how to use your posture to maintain vehicle stability.  Never ride above your experience level. Take it slow and become familiar with your vehicle before hitting the trail.

Follow manufacturer’s guidelines concerning passengers, age restrictions, and vehicle limits.


Know your terrain and make sure you are riding in an ATV or OHV approved area.

Familiarize yourself with a map of the area before heading out. Watch trail signs carefully and stay within your limits of trail difficulty. Even on the easy trails (usually marked with green blazes), you can run into some difficult areas where you need to slow down and proceed with caution. On the more difficult trails, expect steeper inclines, deeper routes, narrower trails, sharper turns, bigger whoops, deeper water crossings, more challenging rock croppings, and a variety of other obstacles.

Learn specific techniques for the terrain you will be riding (i.e. mountainous, rocky, sandy, dunes, mud, water, snow, or ice).

Always be especially careful anytime you have to cross over any roads or highways. ATVs do not handle very well at all on paved surfaces.


Speed control is the number one safety concern.

Use a lower gear along with steady braking, to control speed when going downhill. You also need to lean backwards on your vehicle to help control the center of gravity.

When going uphill, lean forward and maintain a steady speed to prevent shifting which can cause stalling or a wheelie, as both can be very dangerous on a steep incline.

Whenever possible, traverse slopes at an angle. Transfer as much of your weight as possible to the upper side of the vehicle.

Whenever riding over rough terrain, it is sometimes helpful to stand up on your vehicle. Always keep your knees slightly bent to allow for shock absorption without damaging your knees. Standing up puts your weight on the bottom of the vehicle lowering the center of gravity to help prevent turnover.

Never put your foot on the ground when riding an ATV.

Buddy System

Always ride with a friend and let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. If all else fails and you do have an accident, at least someone will be there with you to help.

Final note

Never use alcohol or drugs when operating an off-road vehicle.

For more safety guidelines and tips you can visit

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