Off-Road Recreation with the Family

“I don’t want him to be 16 and sitting inside playing World of Wacraft all day. I want him to be outside, tearing up stuff with his buddies,” he said. Valid point. My husband knew how to convince me that buying a new UTV was a good choice, and the idea that sealed the deal was the allure of something more exciting to get us all off the couch, out of the house, and into the woods.

Two years ago, we welcomed our son into the world. Born at a bruising 4 and half pounds, we spent a year caring for a tiny bundle of premature joy. Now, our little sack of sugar has evolved into a fearless, adventure-loving tornado on two little feet. His obsession with mud puddles and anything with wheels finds us outside more time than not, and in a world where too many kids use iPads more than bicycles, we concluded that anything to foster that craving for the outdoors was a worthy investment.

There’s no question that we’re not the only family in our situation. One glance at online forums or a trip to the nearest OHV park produces story after story of families using off road recreation as a way to foster a love of the outdoors and admiration for the fun produced by a motor and four (or two) wheels.

However, there is a point in time when taking the kids can be tricky. Our son is over the infant hurdle, but not big enough to pilot his own quad. I know this specifically because his favorite place to drive his Power Wheels pickup is directly into the side of the house.

For that reason, we needed a rig in which he could safely ride. We had a 4×4 truck – 3 of them, in fact, and while they’re fun to drive, we wanted the ability to drive in something other than an actual enclosed vehicle, yet a quad didn’t offer large enough – or safe enough – seating. Thus, a UTV with seating for four and optional doors became the option we felt most comfortable with.

With the ride choice in place all that was left was figuring out how to safely strap him in. Obviously, high speeds and high skill trails will be reserved for times when he’s napping in the truck with grandma, but even on slow speed cruises we needed a secure option for seating for our little co-pilot.

Here in California, laws regarding the use of a carseat in a UTV aren’t terribly clear, and the same goes for most states. However, after much searching we were able to locate information that because car seats weren’t specifically prohibited in UTV’s, it was legal.

For now, that answers our problem. Using the stock seatbelt and some custom installed latches, we’ve purchased a secondary car seat to live in the UTV and strap him into with a helmet as an extra piece of insurance. However, we’ve also come across parents who have taken other steps to get their kids safely on the trail with them.

For slightly larger kids, there are a couple companies building custom seats for small riders, known as “boosters.” At about $400, these seats come with custom mounts, smaller buckets, a five point harness and customizable colors. They’re beyond cool.

And in bench seat-scenarios, car seats can be quite simply strapped in. An array of off road aftermarket companies have also caught on to the need to get kids secured and offer bench seats with a built in 5-point harness option in the middle of the rear seat. An option I like to refer to as the “Grandma & Grandpa Sandwich.”

For now, we’re relying on a dedicated car seat, helmet and our good driving to get the little monster out on the trail with us in safety and style. I’ll let you know in 14 years or so if our theory panned out or if he’s busy gaming and pounding Mountain Dew.