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Safety cautioned when off-roading in Bighorns this season

SHERIDAN — It’s July in Sheridan County and tourists and locals alike are in full mountain mode as the allure of the Bighorns draws them outdoors.

Whether on a day trip or overnight camping stay, a climb in elevation is sure to bring with it fresh air, wildflowers and maybe even an encounter with wildlife.

Another seemingly permanent fixture in the mountains travelers may not be seeking but are sure to see are all-terrain vehicle drivers. As traffic increases on mountain roads and trails it is important to keep in mind the safety of those drivers, whether you are driving the ATV or just sharing the road with them.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission — the federal agency charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of the thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction — there were 726 estimated deaths nationwide in 2010, the most recent reporting year, of drivers of ATVs with three, four or an unknown number of wheels.

There were also an estimated 115,000 emergency-room treated injuries.

Though these numbers may not be shocking as activities involving high speeds, heavy machinery and often-unstable ground carry an inherent risk of injury, there are ways to stay safe while enjoying the ride.

First and foremost riders are encouraged to always wear protective gear, especially a helmet, and should never operate the machine under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The USCPSC says many ATV injuries are head injuries and wearing a helmet may reduce the severity of those injuries.

Other forms of useful protective gear include over-the-ankle boots, goggles, gloves and long pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect against injuries from rocks, trees and other debris.

Alcohol and drugs impair reaction time and judgment, two essential skills for safe ATV use and should be avoided. Additionally the offense of operating an ATV under the influence can result in being arrested and sentenced the same as driving a regular motor vehicle while impaired.

In Wyoming, a first DUI offense carries possible penalties including up to six months in jail, up to $750 in fines, up to 90-day suspension of your license and more.

The laws in place regarding the use of ATVs on paved roads were created due to safety concerns, as ATVs can be difficult to control on paved roads because of the way they are designed and the types of wheels they use and many fatalities involving ATVs occur on paved roads.

Many ATVs are designed to carry only one person and riding as a passenger or with a passenger can be dangerous.

Modern ATVs are designed for interactive riding and drivers must be able to shift their weight freely in all directions to maintain control of the machine on varying terrain.

Carrying passengers can make this process difficult and improper weight distribution can cause the driver to loose control or roll the machine over.

Recently side-by-side off-road vehicles — commonly referred to as Razors after the popular Polaris RZR model — have increased in use and are a safer alternative to typical quads when needing or wanting to carry passengers.

Though somewhat safer, these and other ORV drivers should still take all recommended precautions for a safe ride.

Regardless of the model or location of the machine in use, particular caution must be taken for children under age 16 and kids should never be allowed to drive or ride on an adult ATV.

According to the USCPSC children are involved in about one-third of all ATV-related deaths and hospital emergencies and most of those occurred when a children was on an adult machine.

Trends show that number decreasing, though, in recent years possibly as a result of growing popularity of kid ATVs and public awareness of the dangers.

While enjoying a safe and thrilling ride in the Bighorns, the Bighorn National Forest Service reminds ATV drivers to also keep the mountain safe by not damaging the land or vegetation, disturbing wildlife, driving off of the trails or driving on trails that are wet or muddy.

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