West Virginia’s slogan is wild and wonderful — and one of the best ways to experience our state’s natural beauty is on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). ATVs give you a sense of fun and freedom, allowing you to explore West Virginia’s rugged terrain almost without restriction. Yet for all of the fun that ATVs offer, they also present risks.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year, 100,000 people are injured and 650 people die in ATV accidents. West Virginia ranks as one of the top states for ATV accidents, with 673 fatalities between 1982 and 2013. That puts our state as the third most dangerous for ATV riders, ranking just behind the highly-populated California (677) and Texas (735).
Although riding an ATV can be a blast, learning some basic safety rules can help to reduce the risk of an ATV crash. At Johnstone & Gabhart, we have seen the consequences of ATV accidents and other types of personal injury cases. That is why our law firm has put together a primer on West Virginia ATV laws; by studying these rules, you can lessen the chance of getting into an accident along old country roads, fields and trails.
Young Riders: Kids Under 18
In West Virginia, children under the age of 18 are permitted to ride ATVs so long as they take a vehicle rider safety awareness course. Once completed, they will receive a certificate that indicates they have taken this course.
In 2016 alone, there were 101,200 serious injuries from ATV crashes in the United States. Of those, 26% involved kids under the age of 16. These injuries included:
- 31,300 arm and hand injuries (29%)
- 30,300 hear or neck injuries (27%)
- 23,400 torso injuries (20%)
- 20,900 legs and feet injuries (22%)
- 1,500 other injuries (2%)
While kids are less likely than adults to be injured or die in an ATV accident, their inexperience with driving and relatively small size mean that they need additional protection. The state of West Virginia takes this into consideration with its ATV laws for minors.
In West Virginia, children under the age of 18 are permitted to ride ATVs as long as they take a vehicle rider safety awareness course. Once completed, they will receive a certificate that indicates they have taken this course.
Riders under 18 must also wear protective helmets that are size-appropriate whenever they are on an ATV. In addition, extra passengers are not permitted on the ATV unless the manufacturer states that more than one passenger can ride on it. If the extra passenger is under the age of 18, they are not permitted to ride on the ATV unless the ATV driver is over the age of 18, or if they are under 18 but have a level 2 intermediate driver’s license.
If a child is injured or killed in an ATV crash, an experienced accident lawyer can work with you to determine if you may be entitled to compensation. A wrongful death or personal injury claim may be filed after a free consultation to recover damages for lost wages, medical bills, property damages, or other losses.
Are ATVs Allowed on Roads or Highways in West Virginia?
No. You cannot drive an ATV on highways and roads in West Virginia. The only time that an ATV is permitted on an interstate is when it is being operated by public safety personnel if responding to a nearby emergency. You can drive an ATV along the shoulder of a highway or road for up to 10 miles at a speed of 25 miles per hour or less. This law allows you to drive along the shoulder to another trail or field to drive your ATV.
The only time that an ATV can be driven on a road is when crossing it to reach the other side. When crossing the highway or street, the ATV must come to a complete stop before making the crossing and then must yield to oncoming traffic. When the road is clear, the ATV must cross at a 90-degree angle and there should be no obstructions on the other side. Also, the ATV must have all working headlights and tail lights (if applicable) that are illuminated when making the crossing.
If your ATV is struck by a car when crossing a road or when you are lawfully riding on a shoulder of a road, then you may be able to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the responsible driver. In West Virginia, motor vehicle accident lawsuits must be filed within a certain period of time, known as the statute of limitations. Consult with a Charleston personal injury attorney as soon as possible to determine if you may have a viable claim.
Other West Virginia ATV Laws
Beyond operating an ATV safely, you must also properly maintain your motor vehicle. This includes keeping certain equipment on your ATV. An ATV must have a muffler as well as a spark arrester. The muffler and spark arrester must be either manufacturer-installed or the equivalent. Both items have to be properly connected to the ATVs exhaust system.
In addition, the spark arrester and muffler should be in good working order while driving the ATV. If you do not have illuminated tail lights, headlights, or other lights, an ATV can only be operated between the hours of sunrise and sunset.
Penalties for Violations of West Virginia’s ATV Laws
If you break the law when it comes to operating an ATV in West Virginia, you may find yourself facing a criminal charge — with penalties that may include a fine and community service. In addition, if you are involved in a West Virginia ATV accident and it is determined that you were not following the law, it could affect the outcome of your case.
For example, if you decided to ride after dark without headlights or other lights, and a car struck you while you were crossing the road, the driver’s insurance company may point to your violation of the law as the reason why the accident happened. After all, if you had your lights on, the driver would have seen you — and the car crash wouldn’t have happened.
However, West Virginia is a comparative negligence state, which means that as long as you are 50% or less to blame, then you will still be able to recover. Your Charleston accident lawyer could argue in return that if the driver of the car hadn’t been speeding, they would have been able to stop the car before hitting you. If you have been involved in a West Virginia ATV accident, contact an attorney for legal advice before signing any papers or talking to the driver’s insurance company.
Beyond consequences for a car accident, if you violate any ATV laws in West Virginia as an adult, you may be found guilty of a misdemeanor (criminal) offense and fined $100. If a child under the age of 18 violates the ATV law, then their parent or responsible guardian will be fined $50 and 10 hours of community service for a first offense. For a second offense, the fine increases to $100 and 20 hours of community service will be required.
How a West Virginia Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Driving at safe speeds, wearing the necessary protective gear, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and paying attention to your surroundings can allow you to stay safe while riding an ATV in West Virginia. If the worst case should happen and you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you will need a skilled Charleston personal injury lawyer to help you recover for your losses.
With more than 50 years of combined experience of representing victims of personal injury cases in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, Johnstone & Gabhart understands how challenging recovering from an accident can be. Our law firm works hand-in-hand with our clients to help them recover for their medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. Contact our law office today to set up a free consultation with an experienced West Virginia personal injury attorney.