RETIRED SGT. 1ST CLASS RITA A. ROBINSON
Yakima Training Center Safety Office
You know that moment when someone looks back on their life and wishes they’d chosen a different path? For me, this was that moment. Just envision a miniature angel standing on one shoulder and a devil on the other. This time, the devil won.
My boyfriend was interested in buying his buddy’s all-terrain vehicle, but first he wanted to take it for a spin to see how it handled. After finding the perfect location with a mixture of small hills and flat ground near a riverbed, they unloaded the ATV off the trailer. No one thought to bring a helmet, which should have been the first red flag. But since we were already there and my boyfriend was eager to ride, he didn’t think it was a big deal. He climbed on the ATV, gave it some juice and headed out for his test ride.
As I watched him slowly navigate the terrain, I could tell he was starting to get the hang of it. (Did I mention this was the first time he’d ever been on an ATV?) While impressed that he was handling this piece of machinery so skillfully, I was still nervous. After several back-and-forth trial runs, his confidence — along with his speed — began to soar. He spent nearly an hour speeding around the makeshift raceway before boredom set in.
To liven up things a bit, he insisted I jump on the back so we could share the thrill of the ride. Although a little concerned about not having any personal protective equipment, I threw caution to the wind and hopped on. It wasn’t long before we were flying up and down the riverbank, whooping it up at the top of our lungs. At one point, he steered the ATV toward a 12-foot-high dirt mound. I held on tight as he accelerated straight up the side.
Halfway up, I felt the ATV start to slow. The engine sputtered twice and then died. As the momentum stopped, the ATV began to roll backward. The front of the ATV reared up, throwing us both off the back. I hit the dirt first, followed by my boyfriend. He was able to roll out of the way of the tumbling ATV. I wasn’t so lucky.
When I’d hit the ground, I banged my head hard enough to see stars. Disoriented, I wasn’t able to move before the ATV landed on top of me, the handlebar painfully digging into my hip. I remember laying on the ground and staring up at the sky, thinking I had just dodged a potentially life-changing accident.
I made a bad choice that day by not wearing PPE. I should have insisted we go back and get it before anyone rode the ATV. Unfortunately, I never said anything and was forced to learn a painful lesson at the school of hard knocks.
Most of us would probably confess to doing some pretty stupid things when we were younger. If we’re lucky, we chalk it up as a learning experience and pledge to never make the same mistake again. That’s what I did … but I almost didn’t get that chance.
ATV Safety Institute’s Golden Rules
• 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 be operated 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; ATVs are not toys.
• Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
• Take a hands-on ATV RiderCourse
and the free online E-Course. Visit ATVsafety.org or call 1-800-887-2887 to find the ATV RiderCourse