Head case: Safety tips for ATVs and side-by-sides

Farms & Farm Ma­chin­ery ATV guru Barry Ashen­hurst shares his prime tips to keep you safer on an ATV and side-by-side

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

If your an­swer to any of these ques­tions is no, then dude, you need help.

Here’s a dis­turb­ing fact: side-by-side (SXS) ac­ci­dents now out­num­ber all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle (ATV) ac­ci­dents. And here’s an­other: ac­cord­ing to the Fed­eral Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries, most ATV in­juries in­volve ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers, many of whom have never com­pleted a safety train­ing course.

We would have thought that given the safety ad­van­tages in a full-size util­ity ve­hi­cle – the roll cage, the car-like con­trols, the seats belts and so forth – that the ac­ci­dent rate would have dropped, but that’s not what statis­tics show. In­stead, they prove that util­ity ve­hi­cles now out­sell ATVs and that more ac­ci­dents oc­cur in these types of ve­hi­cles.

There may be sev­eral rea­sons for this dis­ap­point­ing trend, but one al­ready has its face at the win­dow: some of us are do­ing the same stupid things in an SXS we’d do on an ATV.

This par­tic­u­lar list of crimes would reach from your house to your let­ter­box. Even with the cur­rent set of oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety in­cen­tives, some of us con­tinue to climb on an ATV and mis­han­dle it all the way to Ca­su­alty.

Some of us are rid­ing with lit­tle knowl­edge of how these ve­hi­cles work, their idio­syn­cra­sies, and even fun­da­men­tal stuff like how to get one safely around a cor­ner or down a steep hill.

Some of us ride these things ev­ery day and never wear a hel­met, even though Shark has de­signed a light­weight, open­face hel­met specif­i­cally for Aus­tralian ATV users.

A streak of ob­sti­nacy runs deep, out there in Lee Ker­naghan Land, but we’re not giv­ing up. We hate see­ing our friends hurt in ATV ac­ci­dents, many of which that might have been avoided with a lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion.

And so, since this is­sue of the mag­a­zine co­in­cides with Na­tional Safe Work Month, here’s a brief re­fresher course in ‘best prac­tice’ on an ATV or SXS.


These days the choice is: you can buy petrol and diesel mod­els, full-size or ‘mid-size’ quads, util­ity ve­hi­cles equipped with roll cages, power-steer­ing, dual-range au­to­matic trans­mis­sions and tip­ping cargo beds, and on top of that a range of ac­ces­sories to fit your buggy for a spe­cific pur­pose, like hunt­ing or ex­treme weather con­di­tions.

You can buy two, three, four, and six-seater ver­sions. Which one to buy? You’re an adult and don’t need us telling you what to do, but here’re a few sug­ges­tions to take into con­sid­er­a­tion.

• What will you do with this new ap­pli­ance? If the ve­hi­cle will carry more than one per­son and haul heavy loads, for­get ATVs, buy a SXS. If you need an ag­ile ma­chine you can steer through wooded ar­eas or use to con­trol a mob of sheep, con­sider an ATV.

• If you don’t need 50hp, don’t buy a large, pow­er­ful ATV or SXS. • If you’re get­ting on a bit, buy a ma­chine with power steer­ing. You won’t be­lieve what a dif­fer­ence it makes. Power steer­ing isn’t a fancy op­tion, it’s a safety fea­ture.

• If your wife and/or chil­dren will op­er­ate the ve­hi­cle, buy a

SXS. The con­trols are more car-like, it has a steer­ing wheel for ex­am­ple, not han­dle­bars, and this alone makes a novice op­er­a­tor feel more at home. (And you will en­rol them in safety train­ing, won’t you?).

• Don’t buy any ATV or SXS with­out strong en­gine brak­ing. All-wheel drive ve­hi­cles that get you up a hill eas­ily but not safely down again are worse than use­less, they’re down­right dan­ger­ous. We could name and shame the mod­els that lack en­gine brak­ing but that would cause trou­ble and we al­ready have enough.

• With ATVs, your dealer is your best friend. He will help you choose an ap­pro­pri­ate model, look af­ter it for you, and rep­re­sent your in­ter­ests if some­thing goes bang dur­ing the war­ranty pe­riod. If you can, buy your ATV from a lo­cal dealer you know and trust. If you golf to­gether, so much the bet­ter.


When it comes to small off-road ve­hi­cles, ed­u­ca­tion is every­thing. Get ed­u­cated or get hurt. Deal­ers can and do sup­ply train­ing ma­te­rial in the form of au­dio-vis­ual ma­te­rial, CDs, and so forth.

Yamaha, for ex­am­ple, runs train­ing days for deal­ers and key sales peo­ple so they can help ed­u­cate ATV buy­ers and rid­ers. Var­i­ous gov­ern­ment and pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions of­fer ATV safety train­ing cour­ses. To save you the trou­ble of look­ing for them, we’ve com­piled a list of who they are and where they are (see page 59).

And now a sim­ple test to help you de­cide whether or not you need safety train­ing. If your an­swer to any of these ques­tions is no, then dude, you need help.

1. Do you know how to safely turn a fully-loaded ATV around

on a steep hill?

2. Do you know the cor­rect tyres pres­sures front and rear? 3. Do you know what a diff lock does?

4. Do you know when to use one?

5. Do you know why most ATVs won’t start in re­verse?

6. Do you know the dif­fer­ence be­tween a hand­brake and a

park brake?

7. Do you know how to use en­gine brak­ing? (and no, Ethel, you

don’t just ‘turn it on a ride down’).

8. Can you find the air fil­ter?

9. Do you know what turf mode does?

10. Was Lee Ker­naghan ever preg­nant? (trick ques­tion).


There’s no point tak­ing a safety course and not prac­tis­ing the tech­niques you’ve been taught. Get the ma­chine out there and grad­u­ally in­crease the chal­lenge un­til you sense you’re get­ting a feel for how the beast be­haves. And:

• Be sen­si­ble. Avoid fright­en­ing sce­nar­ios that bend or

break things.

• Lean into cor­ners, not away from them.

• Brake grad­u­ally. Don’t brake hard go­ing down­hill; that can lock

the front wheels, and locked wheels don’t steer.

• Never, ever, carry a pil­lion pas­sen­ger on a sin­gle-seater ATV.

They’re not de­signed for it. It’s bat-crazy dan­ger­ous.

• If you’re not con­fi­dent of get­ting up a steep hill, don’t try. Get­ting half way up then find­ing you have to turn around can be more in­tim­i­dat­ing than try­ing to climb the rest of it.

• If you must ride over an ob­sta­cle like a log, stand next to the

When it comes to small off-road ve­hi­cles, ed­u­ca­tion is every­thing. Get ed­u­cated or get hurt.

ma­chine, put the trans­mis­sion in low range and ‘walk’ it over the ob­sta­cle. And if you don’t know how to, get some­one who does know to show you. Fallen trees and logs are com­mon ob­sta­cles on ru­ral prop­er­ties.

• Ride with a mate. Hav­ing an ac­ci­dent when no-one knows

you’re hurt or even where you are can be life threat­en­ing. • And read the own­ers’ man­ual. Most these days con­tain plenty of help­ful ad­vice on how to po­si­tion your body­weight on an open ATV.


Oh my. The num­ber of rid­ers we’ve seen with­out hel­mets – or gloves or boots or eye pro­tec­tion. The mind big­gles.

I mean bog­gles.

• The worst ATV ac­ci­dents in­volve ‘crush in­juries’ where the rider is struck by the ma­chine. A struck head in­side a hel­met is less likely to im­plode than an un­pro­tected head.

• Since you can now buy light-weight hel­mets with am­ple

ven­ti­la­tion, there’s no rea­son not to wear a hel­met.

• Rid­ing with­out eye pro­tec­tion is al­most as stupid as rid­ing with an un­pro­tected melon. Aus­tralia is hot and dry and that means dust and dust means that some­times you can see bug­ger all. I once saw a trail-rider on Cape York ride flat knacker into a dirty big washout. He was rid­ing in thick dust, into the sun, couldn’t see a god­dam thing and spent the rest of the ride in the sup­port ve­hi­cle.

• Sun­glasses are not eye pro­tec­tion. Dust can ride around cor­ners. If you’re ex­pect­ing heavy dust, wear gog­gles or wellde­signed in­dus­trial safety glasses.

• At least take work gloves with you. They’ll pro­tect your hands when you’re lift­ing spikey stuff and help keep your fin­gies warm when it’s cold. Most ATVs don’t have grip warm­ers but hand­guards and those do only so much to keep cold air out. • Wear boots. I saw a pho­to­graph on Face­book re­cently where a sharp branch had pierced a trail-rider’s MX boot and pen­e­trated his leg. God knows what it would have been like had the boots not lim­ited the pen­e­tra­tion.


Here’s a tragic story I know to be true. A farmer found a way to by­pass the safety switch that pre­vented his quad start­ing in re­verse gear. We don’t know why but that’s what he did. Later, an adult and child climbed on that ATV. When the adult fired it up, the ma­chine re­versed into a solid struc­ture be­hind it which killed the child. It was a tragedy be­yond words, but sadly, it would not have been the first time a quad user had mod­i­fied a fac­tory de­sign to ‘make it work bet­ter’.

Cru­cial for a ma­chine that spends its life work­ing is to keep it in good con­di­tion. Most peo­ple don’t do this. They think their ATV will run for ever on the smell of un­jus­ti­fied op­ti­mism. Mod­ern ATVs and SXSs are ro­bust bits of gear, for sure, but rough ter­rain, steep de­scents, haul­ing, tow­ing and water cross­ings take their toll af­ter a while. Things break (and more things break on cheap equip­ment). CV boots wear and can be dam­aged by trail de­bris. When that hap­pens, abra­sive ma­te­ri­als eat away at the CV joint it­self.

Push­ing a main­te­nance-starved ATV is like wa­ter­ing weeds.

It’s only go­ing to get worse and more likely to fail. Daily main­te­nance items (coolant level, en­gine oil level, brake fluid level, air fil­ters, and so on) are placed for easy ser­vic­ing. Tyres should be checked reg­u­larly for split­ting or any other dam­age to the ex­ter­nal car­cass. Tyres can also de­grade through sim­ple weath­er­ing so keep an eye on that as well. The three quick­est wear­ing com­po­nents on an ATV or SXS are bushes, brake pads and belts: the three Bs. If you can’t check all these things your­self, ask your dealer to do it. He’s your best friend, re­mem­ber?

Mod­ern side-by-sides like this Yamaha Wolver­ine, have first-class off-road abil­ity, but re­quire com­mon sense and ex­pe­ri­ence to get the most out of them.

Above: A Po­laris RZR go­ing through the ‘Wom­bat Holes’ at the By­long 4x4 park in NSW.In­set: The quick­est wear­ing com­po­nents on an ATV are brake pads, CV belts, and sus­pen­sion bushes. Check ‘em reg­u­larly. When one item fails it can cause fail­ure in an­other, more ex­pen­sive part.

Above: There are side-by-sides then there are sides-by-sides. This Can-Am is a hard core recre­ational ve­hi­cle. And here’s an in­ter­est­ing thing. While peo­ple on the land may be re­luc­tant to wear hel­mets, the guys who drive these things wouldn’t go any­where with­out the lat­est and great­est head gear.Op­po­site: Fa­ther and son safety check. Teach your kids good safety habits and they’ll carry them through life.

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