ATVs and What You Need to Know Before you Get on One

Florida residents and visitors find great joy in pursuing thrilling outdoor activities, especially during the summer. Riding ATVs, a common outdoor activity in Florida, can be a lot of fun.  However, it is very important to understand the risks and laws before you get on your favorite four-wheeler. Under Florida law, an ATV is defined as a motorized off-highway or all-terrain vehicle 55 inches or less in width which has dry weight of 1,500 pounds or less, is designed to travel on three or more nonhighway tires, and is manufactured for recreational use by one or more persons.

ATVs and What You Need to Know Before you Get on OneOn average, 532 adults and 77 children under the age of 16 die every year from ATV accidents. Most ATV-related deaths occur during the summer months of May through September.[1] In 2018, there were over 81,000 ATV related injuries in the US. Florida has the sixth most deaths from ATVs, totaling at 629 between 1982 and 2018. [2]

Laws on ATVs

In Florida, it is prohibited to operate ATVs on public roads or streets, except for unpaved roads in the daytime that have a speed limit of 35 miles-per-hour or less. An ATV can only be operated by a license driver or a minor who is under the direct supervision of a licensed driver. Moreover, no person under 16 may operate, ride, or be otherwise propelled on an ATV unless the person wears eye protection and a safety helmet. Violating any of these laws alone is considered a noncriminal traffic infraction.

Negligent Entrustment with ATVs

No one loves ATVs more than little kids and teenagers. Many think an ATV is just a grown-up version of the electric cars that toddlers drive; however, ATVs are extremely dangerous and require proper care and supervision, especially when the operators are under the age of 16. Parents often think that it is fine to let their child drive an ATV, but many do not fully fathom the risks involved. A person who supplies a motor vehicle to another person may be held liable for the negligent acts of the other in operating the vehicle through negligent entrustment. If the person supplying the motor vehicle knows or has reason to know that because of the other’s youth or inexperience, the person operating the vehicle is likely to operate the vehicle in a manner that involves an unreasonable risk of physical harm to himself or others, the individual supplying the vehicle acts negligently.

The case of Fina v. Hennarichs is a great example of negligent entrustment with regards to the use of ATVs. See Fina v. Hennarichs, 19 So. 3d 1081 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009). In Fina, parents permitted their 13-year-old to operate an ATV without supervision. Despite the warning that the ATV was not to be used by individuals under the age of 16, the parents negligently allowed their 13-year-old son to operate an ATV. Foreseeably, the 13-year-old had let his friend drive the ATV, where she crashed into a tree and later died. The court held that the parents were largely at fault for the girl’s death, even though they did not specifically permit their son’s friend to drive, apportioning 70 percent of negligence on the parents. The court found that the parents were negligent because the child’s lack of age deprived him of the maturity to responsibly operate an ATV.

Recent Local Tragedy Due to Improper Use of ATV

Recently, on July 4th, in Dade City, a 14-year-old was tragically killed after falling off an ATV. The ATV, unreasonably, was carrying 1 driver and 3 passengers, all from the ages of 12 through 15 years old. Against Florida Law, all individuals on the ATV were not wearing helmets or eye protection. The individuals were also driving on a paved public road, against Florida Law. At this time there is not enough public information to determine whether there was negligent entrustment on behalf of an adult authority.[3]

ATVs may look like a toy, but that is far from the truth. They provide many risks towards those operating and others around them. If you are deciding whether to take an adventure on an ATV, it is important to remember what the risks of injury are and to wear the proper protection to reduce the chance of serious injury or even death. If your child plans on riding an ATV, it is of the utmost importance that they read all warnings, are properly trained, are under the supervision of a licensed driver, wear required safety gear, such as a helmet and protective eyewear, and be cautious of their speed, objects, and individuals around them.

[1] “CPSC Infographic: ATV Deaths & Injuries.” OnSafety, onsafety.cpsc.gov/blog/2018/05/18/cpsc-infographic-atv-deaths-injuries/.

[2] Topping, John. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, n.d., 2018 Annual Report of ATV-Related Deaths and Injuries.

[3] Lopez, Lisette. “14-Year-Old Girl Killed in ATV Crash in Pasco County.” WFTS, WFTS, 5 July 2021, www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-pasco/14-year-old-girl-killed-in-atv-crash-in-pasco-county.