May is National Trauma Awareness Month, sponsored by the American Trauma Society, in collaboration with the Society of Trauma Nurses. The theme of National Trauma Awareness Month is “injury is no accident,” and the 2018 Campaign focuses on Personal Recreational Vehicle Safety – all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, snowmobiles, personal watercraft (PWC), and even golf carts – and promotes “Safety At Any Speed.”

Use these four tips to help you and your family enjoy these types of vehicles safely.

Tip #1: Use the right gear

When riding a dirt bike, ATV, or snowmobile wear a helmet* that meets U.S. Department of Transportation or Snell Memorial Foundation standards. Other personal protective equipment for ATV and dirt bike use includes gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and boots. Add knee, shoulder and chest pads for dirt bike riding. “Dress for the crash not the ride,” especially if your helmet does not have a visor or face shield. Also wear goggles, not just glasses or sunglasses.

When riding a PWC, use a properly fitted US Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device and securely attach the engine cutoff lanyard to your wrist or PFD. Wear a wet suit bottom or thick, tightly woven, snug-fitting clothing and lightweight, flexible foot protection to help reduce possible injury should you step on sharp underwater objects.

If a golf cart is equipped with seat belts, buckle up. If there is no seat belt, use hand holds and keep hands and feet inside the cart at all times.

*Helmets are essential for many sports and recreational activities. See the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s page “Which Helmet for Which Activity?” for valuable information.

Tip #2: Know your limits

Drinking and driving a personal recreational vehicle, just like any motor vehicle, is dangerous. Alcohol or drugs can impair a driver’s judgment and reaction times. Wait until you finish riding for the day before consuming any alcoholic beverages.

Avoid distractions. Your eyes, your hands, and your brain should be focused on operating the equipment. Distractions include cell phones, but also your golf cart or snowmobile passengers (most ATVs, dirt bikes, and PWC are not designed and built to carry passengers), or being fatigued, wet, or cold.

Do not ride beyond your capabilities. Familiarize yourself with your machine and the terrain or area where you ride. Consider a training course. This is sometimes required by law.

Tip #3: Know where to ride

Dirt bikes and ATVs are constructed and designed to be operated off-highways. Except for dual-purpose ATV models, never ride on paved surfaces except to cross them, when it is safe to do so and permitted by law.

On a PWC, stay in sight of shore, but avoid operating too close to residential and congested areas. Don’t operate where swimmers are in the water. Avoid wake jumping, splashing and passing close to any other vessels.

Most golf carts are designed for use on the golf course, not pavement. It also may be illegal to drive a golf cart on a public road, or permits or insurance may be required. A golf cart should be operated at a speed equivalent to a well-paced walk but no faster than 15 mph.

When snowmobiling, stay on marked trails. These are safer because they have been groomed for you and are less likely to have hazards.

Tip #4: Protect children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that no child under age 16 ride an ATV of any size or operate a personal watercraft or snowmobile.

Children under the age of six should never ride as a passenger, including in a golf cart, according to AAP. Children are even more likely than adults to fall from a golf cart and these falls are associated with higher rates of injuries and hospitalizations. A snowmobile ride can be rough and holding on tight, especially for long periods, takes strength that younger children lack.

Get the right size and type of bike. Beginners should be able to hold up the bike with both feet flat on the ground and comfortably reach the bars. Make sure their hands can easily reach and apply the hand controls with palms on the grips. Do not buy a motocross race bike for trail riding. Trail riding requires the bike to adjust to the conditions and hence, these bikes will have slightly higher pick up and lower top speeds. Dirt bikes come with more shielding to protect its components and the hands of the rider. Noise levels of dirt trail bikes are also reduced compared with motocross bikes. Supervise dirt bike riders younger than 16.

Tip #5: Buckle Up!

Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash.

Seat belts are your best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers. During a crash, being buckled up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle. Being completely ejected from a vehicle is usually deadly.

Wear the lap portion of a lap/shoulder belt low and snug across your hips. The shoulder portion must be snug across your chest, away from your neck and face. Never put the shoulder belt behind your back or under an arm.

Remember, air bags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.

If you need a roomier belt or drive a vehicle that has lap belts only, contact your vehicle manufacturer to obtain seat belt extenders or to see if your vehicle can be retrofitted with today’s safer lap/shoulder belts.

Check out the National Highway Traffic Administration’s (NHTSA) website to find out when your child is ready to use an adult seat belt. NHTSA also has Seat Belt Recommendations for Pregnant Drivers and Passengers.

Be a good role model for children by following the safety tips we have outlined here.

Maureen Johnson is the Child Passenger Safety Specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

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