Middleberg elementary students learn about ATV safety

As superintendent at Middleberg Public School in Grady County, Joel Read does everything in his power to keep his students safe. When an opportunity arose for his fifth graders to learn more about all-terrain vehicle safety and get hands-on experience, he jumped on the chance.

“We’re a rural school with outdoorsy kids. ATVs are great tools and a source of family fun, but it’s important they know how to ride them safely,” Read said. “Accidents are gut wrenching and can turn tragic so fast.”

Liz Taylor, Grady County Oklahoma State University Extension director, said when she learned about the 4-H ATV Youth Riders Course, she knew she wanted to bring it to one of her county schools. Offered to 4-H, FFA and family groups across the state for several years, the course is now open to schools for students aged 10 and older.

“I learned about this program expanding its reach while attending a meeting in Stillwater. Before I left town, I was on the phone to the school asking if they’d be interested,” Taylor said.

With an open invitation from Read, Jim Rhodes, OSU Extension educator of Oklahoma youth safety; and Aaron Henson, Tillman County OSU Extension director, conducted the ATV safety class for 16 fifth-grade students. Rhodes said serious ATV injuries affect more than 100,000 people in the United States, and Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest rates of injury for riders under the age of 16.

Oklahoma averages between 18 and 24 ATV-related deaths each year. In addition, it’s estimated ATV injuries result in as much as $6 billion annually, including $868 million in medical costs, $1.2 billion in lost productivity and $3.8 million in reduced quality of life.

“Research shows that wearing the proper gear and consistent use of helmets could reduce ATV-related deaths by an estimated 40% or more, and non-fatal head injuries by more than 60%,” Rhodes said. “In Oklahoma, about 90% of ATV accidents occur when drivers under the age of 16 are driving an adult-sized machine.”

The ATV Youth Riders Course covers basic safety tips and techniques such as importance of protective wear, the fit of an ATV, throttle control, weight shift, and how to be a safe, active rider.

“While these vehicles often are used for pleasure, they aren’t a toy,” Rhodes said. Middleberg School principal Meredith Franklin said it’s a good idea to get youth started with basic information before getting on an ATV. “Even if our students don’t ride ATVs now, there’s a good chance they’ll be on one eventually,” Franklin said. “These kids have learned basic safety and riding skills and this information will be beneficial to them later on. Liz (Taylor) is at our school often and we have a great working relationship with Extension. I’m happy she brought this opportunity to our kids.”