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 a hobby that brings you so much joy. So when you pack the kids up, stick them in the RZR, and hit the trail, you know you’re in for a day full of giggles, smiles, and a whole lot of fun.
Before long, the kids get comfortable and start making their own decisions and asking for a turn behind the wheel—or maybe they just 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.
DISCLAIMER: 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 below are just that—opinions, not professional advice.
When do you start taking your kids on a ride? Polaris puts stickers on all their vehicles stating that passengers must be at least twelve 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.
We’re 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 car seat, they’re too small.
Let’s say your child has reached that forward-facing age. (For the record, that’s age two, and not a moment before—this has more to do with neck strength than body size.) At this point, you can think about installing a specially-designed child seat, like a bump seat. 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.
Every rider should wear a helmet on every ride, without exception. Even the most cautious riders roll over every now and then, and even an easy rollover can have devastating consequences if you neglect to wear your helmet. You put a case on your iPhone that you replace every two years, so 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 we 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!
The bare-minimum ride insurance you have is your stock standard seat belts. 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 seat belts, it’s time to upgrade. There are a lot of options out there, including the aforementioned bump seats that come with little four- or five-point harnesses and booster seats that use the existing seat belts.
Some choose to use car seats in UTVs. Our 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.
Once they’re big enough for the regular seat, put them in a good four- or five-point harness. They’re magnitudes safer for them (and you) than a stock three-point seat belt.
The stickers all over your machine say you must be sixteen 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 we know that you’re going to let them drive no matter what anybody says. Everybody remembers sitting on their parent’s 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.
We 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.
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. 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.”
Rather, our advice for you here is simply to not do it. Save it for the lake.
These young riders need rules. For example:
Never get in the seat without a responsible adult present.
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 and 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.
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 and keep them happy. If you do, you’ll have some of the best rides of your life.