Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe on the Trail

These kids are super safe at SuperATV!

There are few things better than seeing a big grin on your child's face. It’s only natural that you would want to include them in that singular hobby that brings you so much joy too. So when you pack the kids up, stick them in the RZR, and hit the trail, you know you’re in for a good day full of giggles, smiles, and a whole lot of fun.

Before long, kids get comfortable, start making their own decisions, and start asking for their turn behind the wheel—or take a turn without asking. No matter what they do, it's important that you and your kids have a healthy dose of fear and caution when operating a UTV or ATV. These things aren't just big toys, they're heavy duty machines that require just as much care to operate as a road vehicle. Make safety your number one concern every time you ride, and you're guaranteed to have many smile-filled days ahead.

  • How Small is Too Small?
  • When do you start taking your kids on a ride? Every new parent asks this question about every possible activity you can do with an infant. Polaris puts stickers on all their vehicles stating that passengers must be at least 12 years old, but local laws may be more or less lenient so check them out! Generally speaking, if your kid can't reach the grab bar and set their feet flat on the floor, they're probably too small legally speaking. That guideline is precisely what the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) recommends for state laws. It makes a lot of sense and considering Polaris, Can-Am, and the rest of your favorite UTV manufacturers are members of ROHVA. You shouldn't go ignoring advice like that.

    I'm confident that regardless of what a sticker or the law says, you're going to do your own thing on your own property, and you want your kid out there with you as early as possible. So let's start at the extreme end of the spectrum.

    If your child can't hold their head up on their own they're too small.

    If your child is still in a rear facing care seat then they're too small.

    Once they're facing forward (that's age 2 and not a moment before! It's a neck strength thing as much as a size thing!) you can think about installing a specially designed child seat (like a bump seat or a number of other fancy child seats). Once they can reach the floor and a grab bar while belted in, they can move to a regular seat.

    In all cases you can't go all out and drive like a madman, too much shaking can cause traumatic brain injuries, and even though your child looks like a miniature version of you, their neck isn't as strong as yours. Bumps, jumps, or rollovers that you think are no big deal might do serious harm to your child. Which brings us to the next item on our list.

  • Wear Helmets and Neck Collars
  • Every rider should wear a helmet on every ride without exception. Even the most cautious riders rollover every now and then, and even an easy rollover can have devastating consequences if you eschew your helmets. You put a case on your iPhone that you replace every 2 years, why not protect your head the same way. You only get one of those and it's your responsibility to make sure your kid's head doesn't get bonked.

    You should also consider purchasing neck collars for your kids. These are usually reserved for competitive riders but they give much needed support to keep your small child's head from bouncing all over the place and straining their neck. Like I said, it's easier for them to strain their neck than it is for you.

    Throw in some eye protection like goggles while you're at it. Of course dust and debris are bad for your eyes, but so are June bugs and horse flies. Keep those critters out!

    This kid needs some goggles to maximize his safety scenario.

  • Seatbelts/Harnesses
  • The bare minimum ride insurance you have is your stock standard seatbelts. They're on every new UTV out there, and there's absolutely no excuse for not wearing them. If a child is too small for the stock seatbelts, it's time to upgrade. There are a lot of options out there including the aforementioned bump seats that come with little 4 or 5-point harnesses and booster seats that use the existing seatbelts.

    Some choose to use car seats in UTV. My advice is don't! Of course your child will love it, but there isn't a car seat that exists that's designed for UTVs. Plus, you don't want to subject an infant to the vibrations and bounces you feel on a ride as I've said before.

    Once they're big enough for the regular seat, put them in a good 4 or 5-point harness. They're magnitudes safer for them (and you) than a stock 3-point seatbelt.

  • Don’t let kids drive
  • The stickers all over your machine say you must be 16 years or older and possess a valid driver's license in order to drive. That's a good rule! These aren't Big Wheels we're talking about—these are powerful machines that require a great deal of responsibility to drive safely.

    That being said, you know your kids. You know how well they make decisions and follow rules, and I know that you're going to let them drive no matter what anybody says. Everybody remembers sitting on their parents' lap and steering the truck on a private drive or back road. It's easy to give your kid that kind of limited control and keep them safe. It's not so easy when they want to gas, brake, and steer with you sitting shotgun.

    I know you want to give them their shot behind the wheel, even before they get their driver's license. Just remember: Ride with them every time! Don't let them ride the way you do! Know their limits! This is serious stuff, kids have an amazing ability to hurt themselves when you're not looking.

  • Don’t Tow Your Kids!
  • There are a lot of people that like to tow their kids on saucers strung to the back of their ATV or UTV, and maybe you're one of them. This can be incredibly risky for a number of reasons. Kids can get caught up in the tow line and dragged or strangled. They can fly off and slam into an obstacle or get cut up just from skidding across the ground (I'm living proof of just how dangerous a rock an inch below the surface can be). They can even crash into objects while on the sled if the driver loses the slightest bit of control. It's just too hard for a driver to keep tabs on the kid at the end of the rope.

    This is one situation where I'm not going to say, "If you do it you should do it the safe way."

    Just don't do it! Save it for the lake.

  • Set the Rules
  • These young riders need rules. Rules like:

    Never get in the seat without you there.

    Never start the engine.

    Always keep your hands inside the vehicle.

    These are just a few good places to start when it comes to keeping your child happy and healthy.

    You have to lead by example, too. Don't ask your kid to wear a helmet then cruise around without a helmet yourself. They'll pick up on that in a heartbeat. Likewise, don't hang your arm out the window and expect your child not to do the same. (You shouldn't be doing that anyway!) Kids are smart, perceptive, and impressionable. They will do exactly what you do every time. If you follow the guidelines on this page, so will they.

Ready to Ride?

Riding UTVs makes all of us feel like big kids. Maybe that's why so many kids gravitate towards riding so quickly. Their joy is infectious and makes going for a ride that much better. Just make sure you remember who the adult is when you have a kid in the cab. Keep them safe, keep them happy, and keep them well fed. If you do, you'll have some of the best rides of your life.

killing it in the dunes

You're responsible for following the law. Know the rules and regulations for your state or province before taking your kids on the trail. The opinions above are just that, opinions—not professional advice.

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