By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Children driving and riding three- and four-wheeled vehicles is commonplace in many rural Georgia counties. Unfortunately, what may seem like innocent fun can lead to serious injuries and even death. One Georgia 4-H agent is taking a stand to educate children and parents in her county, hopefully saving lives in the process.
As the University of Georgia 4-H agent in Tattnall County, Lesli Garrett educates children every day on leadership, citizenship, self-esteem and a host of other youth development topics. Adding all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety to her list of classes was a personal choice.
“Every summer I see kids riding around on four-wheelers and going mud bogging on them. It’s just part of living in the country,” said Garrett, who owns a four-wheeler and is the mother of three small children. “But we’ve had several deaths in our county from ATV accidents. My own son told me he once rolled our four-wheeler over but jumped off before he was hurt.”
This led Garrett to seek certification training to teach ATV safety to children and adults in her county. She began the training while working as an assistant to Toombs County 4-H agent Cheryl Poppell, also a certified instructor.
“Parents need to know that ATV safety equipment, like helmets, is not one size fits all,” said Poppell, who began teaching ATV safety in her county in 2009. “I’ve seen children driving ATVs while wearing flip flops and not wearing a helmet.”
The Georgia 4-H agents were trained through Oklahoma State University Extension’s 4-H ATV safety program and the ATV Safety Institute.
The institute’s golden rules of safety are as follows:
- Always wear a Department of Transportation-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.
- Never ride on paved roads except to cross, when done safely and permitted by law. Another vehicle could hit you. ATVs are designed to operate off-highway.
- Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV and no more than one passenger on an ATV specifically designed for two people.
- Ride an ATV that’s right for your age.
- Supervise riders younger than 16 years. ATVs are not toys.
- Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
- Take a hands-on ATV rider course and the free online e-Course at ATVSafety.org.
Garrett and Poppell now teach these ATV safety rules at a weeklong summer safety program and in sessions with area middle school students. They use games to make the lessons fun, DVDs of real ATV accidents to make the lessons realistic and let the students try on ATV safety wear to make the lessons experiential.
“I serve as a guest speaker at Boy and Girl Scout club meetings and anywhere I’m invited,” Garrett said. “I just want to get the word out.”
Former Senior Georgia 4-H’er Nicole Smith, an ATV accident survivor, also helps by giving her personal testimony.
“We cringe when kids drive cars, but we cringe even harder when we see them on ATVs,” Poppell said. “We give (children) the education, the gospel of safe ATV driving, but they have to make the choice to use it.”
For more information on Georgia 4-H, go to Georgia4H.org.
(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)