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Warming weather brings out more ATV riders but DNR stresses safety first

The DNR is reminding off-highway vehicle riders to prioritize their safety. According to the DNR, an average of 22 people died each year in off-highway vehicle crashes for the past six years.

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Elizabeth Finke (right) negotiates an incline during a hands-on ATV safety class Sept. 11 in Foley, Minnesota. From 1982 to 2015, ATV crashes killed more than 3,000 children younger than age 16.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News

WILLMAR β€” With the last vestiages of winter gone and a warming spring with summer still approaching ATVs are beginning to hit the trails once again and crashes as well as deaths have already been reported.

According to a news release, Captain Jon Paurus, safety training education manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource 's Enforcement division said, "among the crashes we see, there's one distinct commonality; the majority of people involved have not completed ATV Safety Training."

Another concern among conservation officers is that the most common violations they've seen in recent years is riders under 18 not wearing helmets. According to Minnesota regulations, all riders under the age of 18 must wear DOT-approved helmets, unless riding on private property. The DNR recommends that all OHV riders wear one, regardless of where they're riding or whether it's required.

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Eric Tollefson confirmed the same in a phone interview with the West Central Tribune, noting that the most common violations that his deputies see is youth operators with no helmet on public lands. He also said the second most common violation is riders also haven't had ATV safety training.

In Minnesota, youth ages 10-15 must first complete an online safety course and attend a hands-on training session that includes basic ATV operation, rules and regulations, and having to demonstrate learned skills on an ATV course. Courses can be found on the DNR's education and safety web page. Youth riders over the age of 16 only need to pass an online ATV safety course to ride on trails.

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Along with understanding how to operate an ATV, riders should be aware of where they are allowed to ride. According to Tollefson, class one ATVs β€” four-wheelers with handlebars β€” are not allowed to be driven on roadways, unless a local county or city ordinance allows it. Class two ATVs, such as a side-by-side may be allowed to drive on the extreme right hand portions of paved roadways.

Tollefson said class one ATVs can not drive in the ditches of state or county roads from April 1 to August 1 due to Kandiyohi and other surrounding Counties being within the designated agricultural zone. The boundary of the zone runs east along U.S. Highway 10 to State Highway 23, then follows 23 east to State Highway 95 going to the Wisconsin border. ATVs licensed and registered for agricultural purposes are exempt from that rule.

According to the 2022 off-highway vehicle regulations, an ATV registered for private or agricultural use still needs to purchase a public use registration before operating on state trails. Public Use registration lasts for three years.

Tollefson said that fines for common violations, such as improper or expired registration, can range from $135 to $300. Of course, violations such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to greater fines and possible jail time he said.

Tollefson said the tip he would give ATV riders on being safe is "to be coignizant of what's around you." He stressed that riders need to be aware of their surroundings and not get too reckless on the trails. "That's what's great about living here, there are so many beautiful spots to take everything in." He said riders should enjoy the trails but if the drive too fast they might miss something.

Tollefson also encourages every rider not just youth to wear helmets. "Most injuries we see in ATV crashes are head injuries," he said.

Among the DNR's golden rules for ATV safety is riding on designated trails safely, soberly, and wearing proper gear such as long sleeves, long pants, gloves, over the ankle boots and a DOT-compliant helmet.

Dale Morin is a reporter with the West Central Tribune. He covers public safety and breaking news beats.

Dale can be reached at dmorin@wctrib.com or by phone 320-214-4368.
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