CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has the highest rate of ATV rider deaths on public roads according to a recent study.The study, released Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, looked at rider deaths on public roads from 2007 to 2011.In that time, 1,700 riders died in crashes on public roads throughout the nation. West Virginia ranked No. 1 on the list with a death rate of 105 per 10 million, according to the news release by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.When looking at the number of deaths, West Virginia was third at 96. Kentucky had the most at 122 and Pennsylvania ranked second at 97. Only New Hampshire and the District of Columbia reported no crashes.Trooper B.D. Gillespie, with the Welch State Police detachment, said he wasn't surprised West Virginia ranked so high."It's West Virginia; it's ATV country," he said.Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman, cited the state's rural environment as a possible reason.
"We're clearly a rural state and we have people who enjoy outdoor activities," he said. "A lot of people who travel to West Virginia to be involved in those types of activities -- hunting, fishing, skiing -- we have a lot of wonderful activities to offer."In Gillespie's experience, locals are more likely to drive ATVs on public roads."The locals use ATVs to run back and forth to the stores," he said, "The people from out of state and are riding the trails are just riding from trail head to trail head. It seems like they obey the law whereas the locals don't."Why are locals more likely to drive along public roads? Gillespie said many see it as a cheaper form of transportation.
"I don't think they're aware of the laws," he said. "They just look at it as you don't have to have tags or insurance or anything."Two-thirds of the crashes happened on public or private roads, according to the news release.Men 16 and older were most likely to die in such crashes, according to the study. In these crashes, few wore helmets and many were impaired by alcohol, the news release states.
Also, crashes were most likely to just involve one ATV.In West Virginia, it depends on the area whether riders can travel on unlined roads or backroads, Baylous said. Some cities have ordinances to allow them to travel along the city, he said.However, Baylous said people are not permitted to ride along a major highway or interstate.To prevent crashes, Gillespie cautioned ATV riders to stay off public roads. He said many of the vehicles aren't designed to drive on asphalt.He also urged riders to wear proper safety equipment and of course, avoid alcohol consumption before or during driving."Abide by the law," he said. "You're not supposed to go over 25 miles per hour and you're not supposed to have them on the double line roads."
Baylous said it's all a matter of using common sense. "Whether talking about DUI or talking about highway safety, we always say just use common sense," he said. "That seems to be the biggest thing. If people would use that, there are a lot of crashes that could be avoided."You can't stop every one of them but that would make a big difference."Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.