It’s not against the law for children to ride on or drive all-terrain vehicles in Pennsylvania, but there are certain rules they must follow depending on their age and where they’re riding them, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“There are guidelines for operating ATVs with children on the machine,” said DCNR spokesman Terrence Brady. “Helmets are required. It is not forbidden (for children to ride), but it’s up to the operator to operate safely.”
On Thursday, 5-year-old Annabel Whittingham of Fox Chapel died in an ATV accident. She was riding on an ATV with her father and sister in their yard when she grabbed the vehicle’s thumb throttle, causing it to accelerate and go over a hillside, where it struck a tree.
Family members told investigators that Annabel was seated in front of her father on the ATV and her sister was seated behind him.
Data from DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry shows that from 2009 to 2013, the most recent data available, there were roughly 1,700 all-terrain vehicle crashes reported in Pennsylvania. More than 630 people involved in those crashes were between 1 and 20 years old.
The data showed 149 of the crashes resulted in someone’s death, but the data didn’t indicate the ages of those victims.
“Data we receive from reporting agencies, and the manner in which it is received, does not facilitate such a breakdown, but our Bureau of Forestry’s ATV officials estimate 10 to 20 youngsters die each year in Pennsylvania because of ATV mishaps,” Brady said.
Most ATV crashes are the result of speeding, alcohol use or riding on unfamiliar terrain, Brady said.
DCNR is responsible for overseeing ATV registration, which enables ATVs to travel legally on approved state forest trails and on private land not owned by the operator, but where they have permission to ride.
The department can enforce ATV rules and regulations on state forest and state park lands, but not on private land and public roads. That is handled by municipal and state police.
According to DCNR, children under 8 years old aren’t eligible to earn safety certificates by taking a training course, and are prohibited from operating ATVs anywhere except on private property. ATV operators between the ages of 8 and 9 are restricted to engines of 70cc or less, DCNR said.
If a child is under the age of 16, they generally aren’t allowed to drive an ATV anywhere other than on private property owned or leased by a parent or guardian unless they’ve earned a safety certificate or are taking a certified safety training course.
Brady said all ATV operators and passengers are required to wear helmets when riding ATVs on approved state forest ATV trails.