Safety regulations are good things: full stop. They’ve been shown to help reduce accidents, injuries and potential fatalities across a wide spectrum of activities and industries. But there’s a difference between good safety regulations and misinformed safety regulations and New York’s latest is, in my mind, the latter. And it’s set to become law this month.

Back in October, the state of New York passed revised legislation on ATV use for minors, with the revisions raising the age at which children and young adults can legally operate ATVs. Before the legislation, a minor could ride an ATV starting at the age of 10, and those 16 and older—so long as they held a safety certificate—could watch over the minors ensuring they were safe. That’s all gone now. 

According to the revision, you now have to be 14 years old to operate an ATV and only those 18 and older can perform those safety-watching duties. That’s not a big jump for either age, but it still represents something to talk about, as the reasoning behind the change seems misguided at best. 

Yamaha YFZ50

“Recent serious accidents and fatalities involving minors operating All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have highlighted the need to enact legislation. Over 24,000 children under the age of sixteen are injured in ATV-related accidents each year,” it states, adding, “1) Though 30 percent of ATV-related injuries and 13% of deaths involve minors, their hospitalization rates are 30 percent higher than for adults. 2) Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death for children under sixteen involved in fatal ATV accidents, with younger children (under six years) being at highest risk.”

It continues, “3) ATVs, depending on the particular model, can weigh 600 pounds or more, and reach speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour. Machines of this size and speed are not suitable for young children to operate. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, operating ATVs is especially dangerous for young children, given their smaller size and relative immaturity. In addition, the group believes that children are "not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines."

There are some scary numbers thrown in there, and it’s easy to see why this bill passed. Who could argue with such statistics? Well, I can, actually. 

Yamaha YFZ50
Yamaha 700R

The bill’s writers absolutely knew what they were doing, as those numbers are vague in that they don’t describe what sort of injuries occurred, nor what the outcomes of those hospital visits were. Injuries could be scratched knees, sprained fingers, small contusions, etc, as each could’ve been likely reported as an injury. Furthermore, hospitalization rates may not be what they seem either, as parents are more prone to taking their children to the hospital over a small injury and may or may not even need a hospital trip at all. I know, I’ve been there with my own children and taking them to the hospital as a precaution. 

The bill’s writers also don’t specify hard numbers outside of those 24,000 injuries, though they specifically call out deaths and traumatic brain injuries. Any are lamentable, but context matters when you’re making laws and regulations. 

What really strikes me as ridiculous is the fear-mongering language used when speaking about ATV specifications. “ATVs, depending on the particular model, can weigh 600 pounds or more, and reach speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour,” they say. The lawmakers further added, “Machines of this size and speed are not suitable for young children to operate.” Duh. Children shouldn’t be riding those and likely aren’t, for the most part. That description is of an absolute top-spec ATV in terms of speed and weight, and it disregards that ATVs come in all shapes and sizes, as well as levels for age. 

There are, in fact, those for children that are lighter and often speed-governed that parents can control. A lot of them, actually, and from most of the major manufacturers as well as those from Razor and other smaller EV brands. Tesla even made one. 

Honda TRX90X Nitro Red_LF34

This is for children. 

Honda TRX250X Krypton Green LF34

This is for adults. 

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As for “children are not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines", they must be joking. Have you seen a Lego set these days or tried to play Fortnite? That’s a joke, but children have long been incredibly capable of doing all manner of complex activities. It’s why champion Formula 1 drivers start around 3-5 years old. The same for champion motocrossers and literally every other sport or activity around. Take even chess or mahjong players, arguably two of the most complex games on Earth, who also start this young. And a 13-year-old just BEAT Tetris. The first ever in the game’s four-decade life. 

But to the point of ATVs, so long as there riding appropriately sized ATVs, children absolutely can ride these machines. Hell, there’s a national ATV Motocross series in which children as young as four compete.

All this is to say that I’m not against new regulations or those regulations to protect children and ensure their safety. But this isn’t the way to go about it, and it actively prohibits children from enjoying an activity they may love because of fear and misguided understanding of these machines. And I speak about this based on experience.  

Kawasaki Elektrode

I’m currently teaching my daughter how to ride a motorcycle. She’s five and loves it. She’s also eaten shit multiple times. But she’s done so in a relatively safe manner, i.e. she’s had full gear, including a full-face helmet, in my backyard, with myself and my wife supervising, and at slower speeds thanks to the motorcycle she started on being speed-limited to 14 mph. She’s not starting on a Suzuki Hayabusa, that’d be insane, but rather she’s taking her first step. But the writers and sponsors of this bill wouldn’t even allow for those first steps with this legislation. Hell, even the original unrevised legislation wouldn’t. They’d preclude her from learning in a far safer environment and manner. 

And I mean preclusion from that safer environment, as they’re setting children and young adults up for failure and potentially serious injury with these new regulations. 

Yamaha YFZ50

Everyone needs stepping stones in learning anything. You don’t just start learning how to pilot an aircraft by hopping into an F-22. No, you start slowly, maybe on a simulator, and work your way up from there. You learn progressively, adding difficulty and complexity as you master a lower rung. But you won’t get that here because if you’re never exposed to what these machines are—in fact, you’re barred from knowing—you may not know how to drive one when you finally get behind the bars. And when you turn 14, hop onto some wicked-fast race-spec ATV having never driven another in your life, and lack the basic understanding of these machines’ dynamics, you whiskey throttle yourself into a tree. 

How does that help anyone? How does that promote safety?

Instead of just using age-based regulations, as these well-intentioned lawmakers are doing, why aren’t they considering a stepped license or regulatory structure based on displacement, speed, and age? In other words, if you want to get your child into ATVing, or for that manner any other powersport, why not set a tiered displacement regulation, something like for those under the age of 10 can only ride and drive under 50cc and/or an EV that tops out at 15mph. Then, once they reach the age of ten, they can graduate to 100cc to 250cc, and so on and so on. This type of system—which is common among European countries—not only gives them a progressive learning curve, but it actually allows the child to have fun and do so in a safe way. 

I’ll say again that I’m all for regulations and safety checks to ensure children are happy and healthy. And the writers and sponsors of this legislation have the right intentions. But they lack a critical understanding of these machines and how they work. So much so that this may cause more strife and injuries than currently occurs. The same ones they were trying to avoid. 

The law will go into effect at the end of this month, but laws can be repealed. Lawmakers can modify legislation. Things can change. And this one should.

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