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Kids These Days

Kids These Days

Last Saturday I sat in my office trying desperately to catch up on stacks of overdue paperwork, but it seems no matter how much of the stuff I push from the €in-box€ to the out-box€ it just keeps coming. It's the kind of duty that dream jobs are made of. Actually, I probably do have what most people would consider a dream job; I'm the manager of several parks where ATV riding is a major component of what we do. So, yes, someone pays me to strap on a helmet, take hold of the handlebars, and steer my ATV tires across all sorts of terrain. Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Sadly, these euphoric episodes only occur after the all the restrooms have been cleaned, the bills are paid, the lawns are mowed, and…well, you get the point. The fun only comes after we complete all of the real work.

Back to last Saturday. I'm in my office, a pencil stuck behind each ear, clacking away at the keyboard on my computer when three ATVs roar by my window, racing past a stop sign, the riders never looking back. I could tell they were kids, maybe about fourteen years old, no helmets, and even less sense. Safety for all riders is our highest priority, and we especially focus on children, so, duty required me to take action should they speed by my office a second time. I didn't have to wait long, for within five minutes the hell-on-wheels gang zoomed into view, carefree and laughing, having no idea what horrors the pencil-eared fuddy-duddy in the office was about to reign upon them. Abandoning my keyboard, I dashed through the door just in time to intercept the ne'er-do-wells.

€"Hey! Stop!"€  I bellowed. "You just ran a stop sign." Three sets of Dunlop ATV tires skidded to a halt, and the boys looked at me as if I were a strange old man dancing around my porch and flailing ridiculously as I stomped out the flames engulfing a bag of burning dog nuggets. For the next five minutes, we discussed the density of the human skull and the importance of helmets and other safety gear. All were under 16 years of age, and none of them had ever taken an ATV safety course.

In our state, as in most, before a child can operate an off-highway vehicle they must complete a safety course that is available online or as a hands-on class. Ages vary from state to state but in general terms, youth between the ages of eight and sixteen must complete a course in their home state prior to operating an ATV.  Additionally, most states require anyone under the age of 18 to wear an approved helmet with the strap properly fastened.

After giving my new friends a stern lecture on safe riding, I informed them that they would have to round up some helmets and complete the online safety course before they could ride again. Not satisfied with their reaction, I walked to their campsite to have a similar discussion with their father. He graciously accepted three copies of ATV safety regulations and promised to keep his rambunctious little rapscallions off the quads for the rest of the weekend. That was a big relief for me since the majority of off-highway vehicle accidents we experience here involve children who have never take a safety course.

The excitement over, I trundled back to the office for more thrilling adventures with paperwork. Yay for me!

Three hours later I stood to stretch a bit and peer over the somewhat diminished mountain of overdue reports, hoping to get a glimpse of the Saturday sunshine that I was missing. While looking across the campground, it didn't surprise me to see my new friends, tearing through all of the unused campsites like they were racing for a million dollars. This time I put on my official hat and drove my official truck to put a final end to this hooliganism. When I arrived on scene, it disappointed me to see a young child, perhaps only five years old, operating a full-sized ATV and the boys' father nearby but not paying attention.

Their dad patiently sat through another lecture about the commonality of kids damaging trailheads while inattentive parents ate lunch or loaded other wheelers onto a trailer. His calm demeanor, however, broke when I offered to help load the rest of his machines so he and his little darlings could leave even more quickly. The upside of the whole episode was that I got to spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors, albeit raking ATV tire tracks out of the campsites.

Parents, please keep your kids safe. Ensure they all complete required safety courses. Put a helmet on every child you have; better still, set a good example and wear one yourself. Put them on an appropriately-sized ATV; 500 CCs is way too much power for a ten-year-old. Please supervise your children. Oh, and if you love doing paperwork on Saturdays in springtime, I'll trade you for a free campsite.

Ryan Richards

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