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(Boris Jovanovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Boris Jovanovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Road Sage

When it comes to ATVs, you can't fix stupid Add to ...

I couldn’t sleep the other night. I tossed, turned and stared blankly into the darkness. There was a question on my mind that wouldn’t let me rest. It burned. It cried out, demanding an answer.

“Just how badly do you have to fail an I.Q. test in order to obtain a licence to drive an all-terrain vehicle (ATV)?”

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This riddle kept me up throughout the night.

Ninety is an average I.Q. test score. Does that mean you have to score 90 or less to get an ATV licence? Maybe you need a 69, a score that qualifies you as “Intellectually Deficient,” but even someone who was intellectually deficient would not do some of the things people do while riding these three- and four-wheeled fun-mobiles (also known without a trace of irony as “quads”). We’re talking about misguided feats of stupidity that stand as monuments to human devolution. See for yourself: there are thousands of ATV stunt videos online.

No, I thought, 69 is still too high. It has to be 59 or less. Maybe 39 is the magic number?

Dawn brought enlightenment. The answer, as all gearheads already know, is that you don’t need a licence to drive an ATV.

You just need to be over 14 years old and willing to commit acts of stupidity at the speed of light. After all, ATV stands for “all-terrain” – you must be willing to endanger yourself and others on any kind of ground. Dirt path, highway shoulder, forest, beach, cross-country ski trail, mountain, sidewalk, driveway, country road, bush.

Are you 10 years old and eager to operate an ATV? Not to worry, in most provinces, as long as you’re on private property and under adult supervision, you’re good to go. In some provinces, you don’t even have to wear a helmet. What could go wrong? After all, you’re under adult supervision. And what kind of adult is supervising you? The kind of adult who thinks it’s a good idea for a 10-year-old to operate a 300-kilogram ATV.

To be fair, I’m referring to the worst ATV enthusiasts. There are many who drive their vehicles responsibly. They get proper training, wear helmets and don’t drink and drive. Nor are ATVs inherently evil. Many of the early design flaws – such as the flaws that made them susceptible to rollovers – have been fixed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently reported that ATV deaths are down in the United States and maintain misuse is the root cause. “We continue to see these fatalities happening in ways that are preventable,” CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson told USA Today. “We would see a dramatic decline if people would just ride safely.”

Fair enough, but misuse is the cause of almost all vehicle-related deaths. It’s the cause of most non-disease-related death in general. When you use things properly, they normally don’t kill you. The problem is that ATVs either, a) bring out the dumb in folks or, b) bring out the dumb folks.

Here’s a list of the things that Transport Canada says you should never do when using an ATV:

  • Drive an ATV without proper training.
  • Drive or be a passenger on an ATV while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Drive too fast for your skills or the driving conditions.
  • Drive on paved surfaces, as it may impair handling.
  • Carry a passenger, unless your ATV was built for two people.
  • Carry a passenger who can’t firmly place his or her feet on footrests and get a firm grip on the hand holds.
  • Overload your ATV beyond its maximum weight capacity.

Here’s a list of the things people will do on ATVs this weekend at the cottage:

  • Drive too fast on all surfaces including paved ones while drunk without proper training carrying helmetless passengers, most of whom are children, while exceeding maximum weight capacity.

It would all just be a moronic punchline except for the fact that ATVs can be so deadly.

Most traffic mishaps can be tracked daily but with ATV accidents you almost have to keep an hourly vigil. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen ATV riders killed when they drove their “quads” over or into the following things: a waterfall, a gate, and numerous trees. In many cases, alcohol was involved.

Still, it’s impossible to maintain that the status quo works. I’d say look to the water. Since 1999, Canadian boaters have been required to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, a licence that “indicates the boater has a basic level of boating safety knowledge required for safe recreational boating.” Fatalities have declined. The system has holes – a casual boater can still just fill out an application and get a temporary pass – but, for the most part, it’s working. At least it reminds recreational users that safety standards actually exist.

Why not require a similar credential for ATV users? The state of Oregon requires riders to get an ATV Education Card and the city of Whitehorse will compel all ATV riders to have safety cards as of 2014. A national system would not be foolproof and it would be tough to enforce. After all, ATVs are used out in the woods and you can’t have a cop hiding behind every bush, but it would be a lot better than the current system that amounts to an accident-plagued free-for-all.

ATV lovers and ATV haters both admit we have a problem. People, particularly young people, are hurting themselves at an alarming rate. The only way to lessen the dangers is to enforce a minimum competency on all ATV riders. Sadly, that won’t be happening this summer so we can all look forward to another season of helmetless yahoos driving their kids to beach on their quads with a beer in one hand and their lucky rabbit’s foot in the other.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

Please send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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