by Brad Allen
By our very nature, hunters and shooters are generally highly safety-conscious people. The thought of letting someone use a firearm for the first time, unsupervised, is something that we would never allow. The same goes for driving motor vehicles, as we are all aware of just how much training our young drivers require before they can be considered ‘competent’ and safe to drive on their own, either in the paddock or on our roads.
Until recently, the prevailing attitude towards riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) has been somewhat lax in that department and the statistics prove that this slack outlook to safety has led to many fatalities and serious injuries to ATV riders, who have for whatever reason, paid little or no heed to safe riding practices.
Unfortunately, It has been my experience that most farmers and hunters in the main wear virtually no safety gear at all while pursuing their job or pastime, apart from long trousers and boots. Sadly, I have seen one older ATV rider, who should know better, steering his Quad on a really hot day clad in only a pair of thongs and underpants, while towing a trailer that contained three small children who were dressed in the same manner. “The little ones aren’t in any danger, I’m only going slow, I’ve been riding these things for years, I know what I’m doing,” he said. In this case, the potential for a disaster was very real indeed, but old entrenched mind-sets can be extremely difficult to change and unfortunately it can take just such a disaster before those attitudes do change.
Because of their build, Quad bikes or ATVs need to be ridden in an ‘active’ manner. If the rider simply plants their posterior on the seat and attempts to drive up or down steep inclines, or to traverse steep slopes, without ‘shifting their weight’ appropriately, the end result can possibly finish in tears.
ATVs are not motorbikes and can’t be ridden in the same style. A rider can lean a two-wheeled machine over, to counteract the centrifugal force of a turn, or the angle of the machine while traversing a steep slope. With four wheels on the ground, an ATV simply cannot be ‘leaned over’ to counter these forces. The only option the rider then has, is to actively ride the ATV by moving their body weight to counteract the factors associated with turning, climbing, descending and traversing hills.
The ‘active rider’ concept was brought home to me recently when I was required to complete an online e-learning ATV Safety Course, prior to attending the Yamaha Kodiak 450 launch in Brisbane. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which runs the course, is the peak industry organisation representing the manufacturers and importers of passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles and motorcycles in Australia, which also includes ATVs.
The FCAI’s online 5-Star ATV Safety Certificate Course was certainly helpful, addressing many commonsense issues around the safe use of ATVs. The basics include: selecting the right vehicle for your purpose; protecting yourself by wearing safety gear and never operating the vehicle while intoxicated; completing an accredited training course; thinking about the riders and loads; never allowing kids younger than 16 years on an adult-size ATV; not overloading your ATV, particularly when operating on steep terrain; and understanding and following the manufacturer’s recommendations chiefly the warning labels and maintenance requirements.
The online course was a good beginning, but attending an accredited practical ATV riding course at the Yamaha Kodiak 450 ATV launch, under the tutorage of expert instructors, was invaluable. By the end of that day, all riders had dramatically improved their ATV techniques and were all safer drivers as a result.
Most cars these days have air bags and seat belts to protect the driver, but motorcycles and ATVs do not. The rider is exposed to the elements and the forces of nature and the only thing that we can do in that regard is to wear the appropriate safety gear, which as a minimum, consists of closed shoes or boots, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, eye protection, gloves and a good helmet. Apart from learning the correct techniques associated with riding ATVs and wearing proper protective gear, especially helmets, is the next big step towards safe riding.
After many serious injuries and deaths to riders, the Australian ATV and SSV (side-by-side vehicle) industry is now taking the initiative by promoting ATV rider safety with a strong emphasis on proper training and the wearing of helmets by all users.
The fact is that 30 per cent of all fatalities involving ATVs could have been prevented if the rider had been wearing a helmet. However, persuading ATV riders to wear any kind of a helmet has been a battle in itself, as most are generally not designed with ATV riders in mind. Farmers and hunters complain that they are too heavy, too hot and they preclude the wearer from being able to hear the animals that they are normally interacting with.
After a 12-month survey by the ATV/ROV (Recreational Off-highway Vehicle) industry, this situation has recently changed with the introduction of an ATV/SSV helmet designed specifically with farmers in mind. The Shark X16 ATV helmet has addressed most of the previous concerns held by farmers and hunters using such vehicles.
Imported into Australia by Yamaha’s accessory subsidiary, Ficeda, the new Shark helmet fully complies with global safety standards and is Department of Transport (DOT) and ECE 22-05 approved so is legal to use ‘on road’ in Australia. It is made with a composite fibreglass shell, which is much lighter than traditional plastic helmets, with the Shark helmet weighing in at just less than 1.2kg.
Unlike most helmets that are hot to wear at low speeds, the Shark X16 has six large vents that open and close to promote sufficient airflow, even at low speeds, to keep the user’s head cool. The helmet also has ear holes, positioned so the rider can hear what is happening around them, making it perfect for the farmer rounding up stock. The helmet is also Bluetooth compatible, for mobile phone and other mobile communication systems.
To suit a variety of conditions and situations, the Shark X16 has optional pack attachments including a fly pack, dust pack and sun pack. It is also fitted with a new micro-lock buckle system, which can easily be operated with gloved hands. The helmet lining is compatible with wearing sun or safety glasses, and is removable, which is handy for the occasional cleaning session.
At the recent Yamaha Kodiak 450 ATV launch in Brisbane, I was fortunate enough to wear the Shark X16 helmet, while riding the new Yamaha. Even though it was August, the temperature was quite warm and went up to the mid-20s by lunchtime. However, the Shark lived up to expectations and was extremely comfortable to wear. The vents certainly did promote sufficient air flow at all speeds, keeping my partially bald head cool. I wore safety glasses throughout the session and the special recesses in the helmet lining made for a contented day. The earpod holes in the helmet greatly enhanced rider awareness, as I could easily hear other ATVs and instructors’ directions as we traversed the course. Even while wearing gloves, the micro-lock helmet buckle was easy to open and close.
This helmet truly is a boon for ATV users across the board and negates most excuses that riders can come up with as to why they don’t wear one. Now, there is no longer any reason for farmers and hunters to not wear a helmet while riding their ATVs. You just can’t afford not to put one on.
Merely by wearing the minimum amount of safety gear, boots, long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, helmet and safety glasses, we can drastically decrease our chances of injury or worse. Doing some type of rider safety training course on an ATV, in conjunction with wearing the proper equipment further decreases our chances of accident and injury. We owe it to ourselves, but mostly to our families, to ride our ATVs as safely as possible, remembering that safety starts with you, the rider.
For information on the FCAI 5-Star on-line ATV Safety Course, go to atvsafety.com.au Your local Yamaha dealer can advise you on ATV rider courses in your area, or check out the Yamaha ATV safety institute. For further details on the Shark X16 ATV helmet, visit shark-helmets.com or your local Yamaha dealer.