There’s been an uptick in ATV injury crashes in Douglas County this year. Eleven had been reported as of Friday, Aug. 9. That’s higher than usual, according to Sgt. Jake Engelman, recreation officer with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Six of the incidents happened within a nine-day period from July 27 to Aug. 4, from one weekend to the next.
There’s no explanation for the sudden rash of crashes, Engelman said. Drivers involved were a mix of local residents and visitors ranging in age from 16 to mid-60s.
Contributing factors varied greatly, as well. Some involved poor trail conditions or weather that came in quickly — sudden downpours that left behind large puddles and soft trails or dust from dry trails that impaired visibility. A few involved people who were riding in groups; others involved riders traveling solo.
“The only thing we see in common here is operator inexperience and people not operating within their abilities,” Engelman said.
A July 31 crash in Wascott highlighted the need for protective equipment. The lead ATV had slowed to go from the road to the trail, and the driver following hit it from behind. The trailing ATV flipped, throwing both the driver and passenger.
“One had a helmet; one did not,” Engelman said. “The one with the helmet walked away fine. The other one without a helmet I believe to this day is in the hospital in serious condition.”
Wisconsin law requires riders ages 17 and younger to wear a helmet. Adults have no such requirement.
“We strongly encourage helmet use in adults. It’s legal to not wear one if you’re an adult, but we strongly encourage it regardless,” Engelman said. “This is a good example why.”
ATV operators born after Jan. 1, 1988, are required to take an ATV safety course. In-person courses, offered at different times throughout the state, cost $10. Online courses can cost up to $30.
Engelman encouraged operators of all ages to take the course.
“We stress them taking it because there’s a lot of things that they learn safety-wise that they may not have known prior to,” he said. “They may have been operating their whole life and they didn’t really know these certain things about ATVs and the dynamics of driving them.”
It can also save drivers born after Jan. 1, 1988, the cost of a $232 citation for operating without a valid safety certificate.
“That ticket is a fairly common citation,” Engelman said.
The recent rash of ATV crashes in Douglas County included the first incident on a county highway. It involved a single ATV that tipped into a deep ditch along County Highway B in Oakland on Aug. 4. Both the operator and passenger were injured.
Portions of county highways have been open to ATV use since 2009.
“So, it’s been almost 10 years since the first county highway section opened,” Engelman said.
Prior to the Aug. 4 crash, he said, “We don’t know of a single injury or fatality crash that’s ever happened on a county highway with an ATV.”
Peak ATV season is underway. Engelman’s message to ATV enthusiasts was to drive within their means and be wary of changing trail conditions.
“We want people to have fun and enjoy their summer vacation here,” Engelman said. “We just want them to make sure they operate within their ability, within their means and wear the proper safety equipment if you do end up having a crash, meaning helmets and eye protection.”