JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri State Highway Patrol is warning parents about the dangers that off-road vehicles, like ATVs and UTVs, present for children.

Of the nearly 300 ATV crashes last year in Missouri, more than 70% of them resulted in injuries, leaving 26 people dead. This year, MSHP says those numbers are on the rise and include too many kids.

All-terrain vehicles, better known as ATVs, don’t just exist in rural areas anymore. The vehicles are popular for all ages on trails, fields and neighborhoods. The problem is, some behind the wheel are driving without much experience.

“We just have seen an increase in the number of crashes, particularly with younger kids that are being injured or killed in these crashes,” said Captain John Hotz with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “You’re seeing a lot of kids out there, particularly in unsupervised roles, where they are driving these big, powerful vehicles and just don’t understand what the dangers are and how serious that can be.”

The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) is warning parents, if your child is under 18, they are required to wear a helmet. When it comes to driving ATVs on the highway, the operator must have a valid driver’s license and follow a speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

Hotz said it’s when these off-road vehicles are on the roadway that it becomes tricky for the driver. 

“When you get them on the hard pavement, they aren’t designed for that,” said Hotz. “Those low-pressure tires aren’t designed for that, and we see the higher speeds and the vehicles overturning. Those tires, the suspension, the brakes. All of that stuff is to be used off the highway.”

Regarding accidents, Hotz said MSHP is responding to ATV accidents where kids are driving too fast on the roadway without helmets or seatbelts, then they lose control and the vehicle overturns. In those cases, victims risk death or serious injury.

Already this year, there have been 230 reported accidents, injuring 153 people and killing 14. In 2022, there were 287 total crashes, leaving 302 injured and killing 26 people. Those numbers are down compared to the 352 ATV crashes in 2021, leaving 415 injured and killing 25. 

With deer hunting season here, Hotz is expecting numbers to rise in the coming weeks and months. 

“We’ve even seen where you have an intoxicated passenger with a small kid driving and then the child wrecks, and then you have people either injured or killed,” said Hotz. “We’re trying to raise awareness as much as we can to reduce those numbers and get those fatalities and injuries down.”

When it comes to utility vehicles, better known as UTVs or side-by-sides, if driving on the highway, the vehicle must have a roll cage, a seat belt is required, and the operator must have a valid driver’s license. 

“These are powerful machines, some go 70, 80, or 90 miles per hour,” Hotz said. “If we let these kids out there unsupervised, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”

The speed limit for UTVs is 45 miles per hour. Cities and counties may issue special permits to drive vehicles on highways within city limits or on county-maintained roads. 

ATVs and UTVs can be operated on the highway for agricultural purposes or government reasons between sunrise and sunset. Just like a car, it is illegal to operate an ATV or UTV while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

For more information on the state’s ATV and UTV rules, click here. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has also shared the below document with more information on off-road vehicle safety.