All-Terrain Vehicles and Work

by Jim Helmkamp, PhD, MS
Contributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Over the past 30 years, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have grown increasingly popular recreationally and have become a valuable asset at work.   With an estimated 11 million in use in 2010 for both work and recreation, ATVs have become a common means of transportation.

ATVs were first manufactured in the late 1960s as farm-to-town vehicles for use in isolated, mountainous areas in Japan. They were first introduced in the U.S. for agricultural applications in the early 1980s. ATVs have many unique features that enable them to operate in a variety of harsh environments where other larger, less mobile vehicles cannot be used, making them very useful in the workplace.  Oversized and low pressure (4-5 psi) tires, low weight (600-1000 pounds) and easy maneuverability make ATVs ideal in many work settings. ATVs are commonly used by workers in border patrol and security, construction operations, emergency medical response, search and rescue, law enforcement, land management and surveying, military operations, mineral and oil exploration, pipeline maintenance, ranching and farming, small-scale forestry activities, and wild land fire control, among others. Farmers and other land owners have described ATVs as filling a valuable niche between a truck and a tractor.  Since licensing and training requirements vary widely by state  many companies conduct their own training or use the resources available to public and private organizations from the ATV Safety Institute External Web Site Icon, a not-for-profit division of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

Fatalities and High-risk Groups

Nearly 300 ATV-related deaths occurred in work settings from 1992-2007.   Deaths have been steadily increasing, from 11 in 1992 to 41 in 2007, with a majority (61%) of the affected workers employed in agriculture production. Over half of the fatal crashes occurred on farms, while 20% occurred on highways. Half of the fatal incidents involved rolls and overturns.

ATV Fatalities

  •     93% Male
  •     92% White
  •     81% Non-Hispanic
  •     23% aged 18-34
  •     35% aged 35-54
  •     42% 55 or older

The overwhelming majority of fatality victims were male, white and over 55.   Workers in the agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting industry sector were 100 times more likely than workers in other industries to be in a fatal crash.  Furthermore, the chance of being in a fatal crash among the oldest workers in the agriculture production industry was more than twice as likely compared to all workers in the overall agriculture/ forestry/fishing/hunting industry sector.

ATV operators 65 years of age and older may be at increased risk of injury.   These workers can experience various physical and sensory limitations which may exacerbate the inherent dangers associated with ATVs. These limitations may include decreased reaction time, visual and hearing limitations, decreased circulation, decreased strength and muscle range of motion that affects mobility, balance, reaction time and endurance.  The use of multiple medications, with differing side effects, may also influence the older driver’s ability to operate the ATV safely.  Older workers should be aware of these possible increased risks and exercise more caution when operating an ATV.

Economic Cost of Deaths

A review of 129 ATV-related occupational deaths from 2003-2006 indicated that the collective lifetime societal cost of these deaths was $103.6 million, with an average cost of $803,100 per death. Eleven states, all in the western U.S., accounted for over 60% of the deaths, with four states (Montana, Texas, Colorado, and South Dakota) accounting for nearly one-third of all work-related ATV deaths during the four-year period. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were to workers in agricultural production at a cost of $62.3 million.

What Workers and Employers Can Do to Make Use of ATVs Safer in the Workplace

ATVs can be used safely in the workplace if used properly, the risks are understood, and precautions are taken to reduce the likelihood of injury.  The recommendations listed below should be followed to ensure safe operation of ATVs:

 Recommended Safe Practices for Employers

  • Provide helmet and eye-protection for workers and encourage the use of other personal protective equipment such as sturdy boots, gloves, long shirts and pants
  • Identify, mark and eliminate if possible hazards such as excavations, trenches, and guy wires that might be present in specific work environments so they are easily seen and avoided by workers on the job site
  • Establish operating and maintenance policies that follow manufacturer’s terrain guidelines, specified hauling and towing capacity, and passenger restrictions
  • Provide employees access to hands-on training by an ATV Safety Institute instructor or a similarly qualified instructor
  • Share responsibility with employees on the practices detailed below

Recommended Safe Practices for Workers of All Ages

  • Wear a helmet, eye-protection, long shirts and pants, sturdy boots, and gloves
  • Participate in hands-on training in the safe handling and operation of an ATV
  • Conduct a pre-ride inspection of tires, brakes, headlights, etc., and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for of the ATV
  • Understand how implements and attachments may affect the stability and handling of the ATV
  • Never exceed the manufacturer’s specified hauling and towing capacity or weight limits and ensure cargo is balanced, secured, and correctly loaded on provided racks
  • Be aware of potential hazards, such as trees, ruts, rocks, streams and gullies, and follow posted hazard warnings
  • Drive at speeds safe for weather and terrain and never operate ATVs on surfaces not designed for ATVs, such as paved roads and highways
  • Never permit passengers on the ATV, unless the ATV has an additional seat specifically designed to carry them
  • Never operate an ATV while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

As ATVs increase in popularity, it is important to understand the hazards associated with them. Little is known about how many and how often ATVs are used at work. We would like to know more about how they are used, how many workers routinely use them, and additional safety strategies you have found to be successful in reducing injuries. Please tell us about your experience.

Dr. Helmkamp is a Senior Epidemiologist in the NIOSH Western States Office.


  • NIOSH. All-terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety at Work.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2012-167.
  • Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. State All-terrain Vehicle Requirements. Arlington (VA): SVIA Government Relations Office, 2011.
  • Helmkamp JC, Aitken ME, Graham J, Campbell CR.  State-specific ATV-related Fatality Rates: An Update in the New Millennium.  Pub Health Rpts 2012; 127:364-374.
  • Helmkamp JC, Biddle E, Marsh SM, Campbell CR. The Economic Burden of All-terrain Vehicle-related Adult Deaths in the U.S. Workplace, 2003-2006.  J Ag Safety and Health 2012; 18(3):233-243.
  • Helmkamp JC, Marsh SM, Aitken ME.  Occupational All-terrain Vehicle Deaths among Workers 18 Years and Older in the United States, 1992-2007.  J Ag Safety and Health 2011; 17(2):147-155.
  • Helmkamp JC.  All-terrain Vehicle-related Deaths among the West Virginia Elderly, 1985 to 1998.  Am J Pub Health 1999; 89(8):1263-1264.
  • Helmkamp JC and Carter MW.  ATV Deaths among Older Adults in West Virginia: Evidence Suggesting that “60 is the New 40!”  Southern Med J 2009; 102(5):465-469.
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