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As the snow finally clears from the valleys and foothills, Montana’s roughly 59,000 ATV owners are anxious to get their machines out of winter storage, saddle up for a trail ride and raise a little dust.

Before turning the throttle, though, parents must make sure that their youngsters have proper certification. Montana requires all riders ages 11 through 17 to complete an approved ATV safety course before riding any ATV or off-highway vehicle on public land. Such certification is not required to ride on designated trails in Wyoming.

To help out, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is gearing up two online video training programs for young riders offered through private companies — Fresh Air Educators and Kalkomey. The courses are a way to help teens and tweens to understand the difficulties of four-wheeled navigation and to learn some of the rules of the trail. The courses are geared to different study styles and include a narrated and interactive study guide, a visual exam and quiz questions.

The cost of the courses is $29.50. Although they don’t replace Montana’s mail-out, mail-in certification course, which is free, it is more convenient and isn’t required to be repeated annually, as the mail course is. Online students can print off their certification right away.

“The old process was quite cumbersome,” said Jason White, OHV manager for FWP.

The online courses are also available to anyone as a free study guide if you’re just looking to brush up on your knowledge and skills.

The certification courses come out on the heels of a report from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons emphasizing that adult-sized ATVS are not safe for children.

According to the report, 150,000 ATV-related injuries are reported annually — less than 2 percent of all riders. Although children only account for 15 percent of the estimated 9.5 million ATV riders, they are responsible for about one-third of ATV-related injuries and children under 16 suffered 28 percent of ATV-related deaths. Those are some scary statistics.

“The incidence and severity of injuries has increased dramatically during the past 10 years, and most of these injuries are preventable,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer, an orthopaedic surgeon and lead author of the report.

The rise in injuries mimics the increase in ATV use. In 1985, only 400,000 ATVs were being ridden and 29 deaths were recorded in 1982. By 2007, the number of deaths had risen to 699.

Sawyer advised that parents use the same precautions with children and ATVs as they would with their automobile.

“These are motor vehicles, not toys, and parents should use the same guidelines they would when allowing their children to drive cars,” he said. “For example, you would not let your 10-year-old drive a car, so why would you let him or her drive an ATV that can weigh hundreds of pounds and go up to 100 mph?”

Preventing injuries can be as simple as always wearing helmets and protective clothing, having adults supervise young riders and allowing children to drive only age-appropriate vehicles, Sawyer added. Clothing and helmets can help protect riders in rollovers, the most common cause of injury.

Although Sawyer emphasized precautions for children, statistics point to young men between the ages of 18 and 30 who live in rural areas as the most frequently injured group of riders in ATV accidents.

Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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