Off-road activities are an inherently family friendly sport. There’s an abundance of opportunities to get outside, the only nudity is Uncle Bob sunning with his shirt off at lunch and swearing is only a worry when Dad manages to get stuck. In a world where so many activities can leave parents a little concerned about what their mini-me’s will see or hear, riding off road is an exceptionally safe bet when it comes to sights and sounds.
However, many parents worry about physical safety when they take their kids along for a ride – be it in the passenger seat or as the pilot of their own ATV or dirtbike.
For the past month, I’ve debated tirelessly about the best options in safety gear for our son when he’s out on the trail in our UTV. At the ripe old age of 2, he’s big enough to enjoy riding, but small enough that some of the traditional safety gear poses an issue – and after a hefty amount of internet browsing it has become clear that we’re not the only ones in such a predicament.
First and foremost, I suppose it’s smart to point out that we read the sticker: no passengers under 14. However, as a parent I am making a personal choice to not subject my child to 12 more years of waiting before he’s allowed to make use of anything with a motor. In fact, we purposely purchased a 4-seater UTV with a center seat to ensure we could safely and securely transport our son. While this choice may not be right for everyone, and the manufacturers are required to warn against it, I figure he’s safer on the trail with us than on a freeway at 70 MPH with hoards of other drivers around. And, in most areas of our state, carseats or child-specific seats, are legal to transport with in off-road vehicles as long as the child is also wearing a helmet.
With that said, there are gaggles of parents looking for the best way to offer head protection to kids venturing off-road, no matter the age or vehicle. Here’s some of the options we’ve found:
1. Motocross Helmet:
The typical off-road helmet is the best option for head protection, seeing as it is designed for a specific use and offers full face protection. These helmets are also DOT approved, which many states and trails require. Available in Youth sizes Extra Small through large, the helmet itself will easily fit a 2 year old on up through the adolescent years.
However, due to weight, these types of helmets can cause a problem for toddlers lacking that brute neck strength. With that in mind, a youth size neck roll can offer a helping hand in transferring helmet weight to the shoulders rather than depending on the neck for full support.
Just be sure that you choose a helmet your child is capable of supporting – and comfortable wearing.
2. Snowboard/Bike Helmet
Many parents choose to use a snowboard or bicycle helmet for children riding in a seated vehicle, such as a UTV. The primary reason behind this choice is weight. Without a full front face guard, snowboard and bicycle helmets are significantly lighter than their offroad counterparts, and offer some protection without the weight.
However, it’s important to remember that these helmets are rated for slow-speed crashes (like 5 MPH speed) and should not be relied on for major protection.
Whichever choices you make for your child’s safety; remember to always review regulations in your area and never forget that the best piece of safety equipment is common sense. Always ride with kids securely strapped in, keep a close eye on kids old enough to ride alone and respect the rules of the road.
With the right preparations and knowledge, as a community, we can continue to foster off-road recreation as a family sport. That is if Uncle Bob would start covering up that hairy back every time we stop to rest. Last time I think somebody through they actually saw Bigfoot.