Safety tips for riding off-highway vehicles


With thousands of miles of trails throughout Minnesota available for riding, off-highway vehicles continue to grow in popularity as a way for people of all ages to experience the outdoors. For some folks, an OHV is a convenient means for getting from Point A to Point B. The journey itself is the goal for other riders, who simply enjoy riding through the fields and woods.

Whatever the reason for riding, there are a variety of steps OHV riders can take to reduce the potential for accidents or injuries and ensure a safe and successful ride.

The golden rules of OHV safety

Female Conservation Officer looking at a map with a person riding a motorcycle

  • Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
  • Ride on the right.
  • Wear goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, gloves and DOT-compliant helmets.
  • Avoid riding on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law.
  • Ride sober.
  • Carry no more than one passenger on an OHV specifically designed for two people, and never carry a passenger on a single-rider OHV.
  • Ride an OHV that’s right for your size.
  • Actively supervise younger riders. OHVs are not toys.
  • If an OHV comes factory-installed with seatbelts, wear them.
  • Take a hands-on and online safety course.

Keys for youth ATV safety

Active supervision – set the ground rules

If a child can control a bike without any problems, it may be a good time to try an OHV.

Youth under age 16 must have permission from their parent or guardian to operate an OHV. Even when permission is granted, active supervision is a must. Youth riders may be able to start and stop an OHV, but lack the experience to respond to something unexpected. Setting ground rules reinforces the serious nature and responsibility that comes with operating an OHV. Allow youth to ride only after they demonstrate they can follow directions and wear their protective gear.

OHV fit – one size does not fit all

OHVs intended for use by adults (16 years and older) are larger, heavier and have greater speed and performance capabilities than youth models. Children under 16 and capable of driving OHVs should ride a smaller model, with speeds limited accordingly.

Youths age 16 and under must fit the OHV they operate.

  • They should be able to reach the foot pegs while sitting upright on the machine, and be able to reach and control the handlebars. This means they must be able to grip the handlebars and have the ability to move them to the left and right, in addition to operating the throttle and brake lever with one hand.
  • Youth riders also must be able to shift their weight from side to side and from front to back while maintain their balance.

Helmet use and safety gear

Protective gear is a must while operating OHVs. Whatever size machine they’re riding, all operators and passengers under the age of 18 must wear DOT-certified helmets. One of the most common violations conservation officers see is people under 18 not wearing helmets, particularly on the larger, Class 2 vehicles.

  • Full face shield helmets that fit snugly and securely offer most protection.
  • Eye protection is recommended, especially in a wooded areas. 
  • Over-the-ankle shoes with sturdy, non-slip heels and soles should be worn.
  • Long-sleeved shirts or jackets, long pants and gloves all afford protection.  
  • We recommend everyone riding an OHV wear a helmet.

Training and trail safety


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