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Courtesy of WVU Today The West Virginia University Extension Service is teaming up with the Polaris Foundation to improve safe ATV and UTV riding practices and help reduce injuries and accidents.

Courtesy of WVU Today

It's a common sight in much of West Virginia - ATVs and UTVs rushing up secondary roads, riding along forest trails and running across the hills. Given their popularity, the West Virginia University Extension Service is teaming up with the Polaris Foundation to improve safe riding practices and help reduce injuries and accidents.

This initiative is of importance as West Virginia leads the nation in the number of ATV- and UTV-related deaths per capita with rates eight times the national average.

"ATVs are extremely popular in the state, not only for recreation and hunting, but also for industry, such as farming and oil and gas. Nearly 16,000 ATVs are sold in West Virginia each year," said Mark Whitt, a WVU Extension Service 4-H youth development agent in Mingo County. "Our existing ATV safety curriculum has been effective, but when you look at the opportunity to expand and offer it to even more people to really change the culture of ATV safety it's incredible. And, we're really thankful to partner with the Polaris Foundation to do so."

Whitt is teaming up with fellow faculty member Dave Snively, a WVU Extension Service agriculture and natural resources agent in Tyler County, in a multi-pronged approach to ATV safety, combining online and in-person safety courses, train-the-trainer programs, school-based programming and exhibits and information exhibits at fairs and hunting and fishing expos.

Haley Rosson, a WVU Extension Service specialist and assistant professor for the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, joined the team to bring her perspective and previous research in Oklahoma to the project.

"In my experience we found that kids generally know what they should be doing, but sometimes there's barriers that prevent it, such as parents not enforcing rules, wanting to look cool for their friends or they view it as a hassle," Rosson said. "Keeping our kids safe is a major focus of the program by helping them understand that safety is something they can control and practice for themselves every single time they ride no matter where they ride is key to building a culture of safety, which is the ultimate goal."

Since 1982, more than 3,200 fatal ATV accidents were reported involving riders under the age of 16 nationwide. Additionally, that age group makes up an estimated 22 percent of the more than 100,000 annual injuries that require an emergency room visit.

That's why there's a program component that helps to educate young riders about safety in a school environment. The program will also survey roughly 4,300 public school students to learn where safety habits can be improved.

Additionally, the program seeks to train 20 educators in the curriculum, so they can help deliver it at schools and increase the number of West Virginia ATV Safety Institute RiderCourse instructors to teach hands-on programs to 15 statewide. By training more people to deliver curriculum, safety can be addressed more quickly on a wide scale and more classes can be offered.

The Polaris Foundation echoed Rosson's sentiment for comprehensive safety programming in West Virginia.

"Polaris is proud to expand our 4-H off-road vehicle safety program into West Virginia. This comprehensive ORV program will teach youth entering our sport important safety and responsible riding practices," said Lucy Clark Dougherty, Polaris Foundation president. "We are encouraged by the success of the ORV safety programs in Minnesota, Texas and Oklahoma and look forward to continuing to expand the program nationally."

Thanks to monetary and in-kind donations from the Polaris Foundation, the ATV safety team plans to have two complete training setups - one for the northern part of the state and one for the southern part of the state.

To find out when the program is coming to your area, or for more information, contact your local WVU Extension Service office.

The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the private nonprofit corporation that solicits and administers donations on behalf of the University.

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