With summer coming up, ATV owners must stay safe

Published 11:47 pm Saturday, May 22, 2010

NATCHEZ — Brent Newman can’t imagine life without his all-terrain vehicle.

Newman, whose family members own several camping grounds at Homochitto National Forest, spends every spare weekend riding around those camping grounds on ATVs with his 14-year-old son, Hayden.

“The main reason I starting using those grounds is so Hayden could ride his four-wheeler,” Newman said.

“When we started, there were probably around 70 camps out there, and now there are 300. He has several kids he’s friends with from Lincoln (County), and we all like to do things like ride on sand hills, regular trails and in the mud.”

With summer starting to heat up, Newman said he and Hayden would spend as much spare time as they could at the Homochitto camping sites. While cruising the great outdoors with ATVs is a lot of fun, Newman said safety is an integral part of the experience.

“Safety is very important. I turned one over one time, and it banged me up pretty good. It was my fault. It wasn’t that the vehicle had a defect or anything, it was just an operator error,” Newman said.

And the importance of being safe is something Newman has worked to instill in his son.

“Hayden’s been riding since he was 3, and if we’re in the Rhino going up a hill, he’ll jump out. He’s very respectful of that,” Newman said.

“We have a rule in our camp where, if you’re under 21, you have to wear a helmet, and anyone going over 25 mph has to wear a helmet.”

And it’s not just parents that are demanding safety gear for ATV riders. Trevor Boyd, manager at Natchez Powersports, which sells ATVs, said his shop stresses to buyers to ride as safely as possible.

“I was talking to a customer whose wife and brother-in-law flipped his side-by-side. Both of their faces had to be stitched up, and she broke her collarbone. Neither one of them were wearing a seat belt or a helmet, which would have prevented a trip to the hospital.”

Both Natchez Powersports and Great River Honda strongly recommend taking ATV safety courses before trying to operate an off-road vehicle. Buster Jamison, manager at Great Honda, said Honda actually pays the cost of the training, but most buyers still don’t attend.

“Honda offers a paid training course in Meadville, under the direction of Troy Priest. A lot of people don’t want to go through the trouble, though, even if it pays to do it,” Jamison said.

When it comes to safety equipment, both managers stress the importance of riders having a helmet on during operation.

“I highly recommend any child under 18 wears protective gear, and honestly, it’s a smart thing to do at any age,” Boyd said.

But not enough people are listening to that advice, Jamison said.

“A helmet is a must, and I highly recommend a helmet for anyone. Most people don’t wear one, but they should,” Jamison said.

“For smaller children, it’s usually recommended for them to wear a good pair of boots to protect their ankles. Riding gear like goggles and gloves is also a good idea.”