By CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 RICH GOLLNER, Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site Silver Bell Army Heliport, Marana, Ariz. June 1, 2011
My wife and I were on our way to our usual all-terrain vehicle riding spot " one that I knew well " when we saw some riders at an area near where we lived. After stopping and chatting with them for a bit, I found out the local authorities were OK with people riding there. Hearing that, we decided to give it a whirl. After all, it saved us a 35-minute drive.
After offloading the ATV, my wife put on her personal protective equipment and I handed the “reins” to her. The ATV was new and she needed to get a feel for how it handled. She seemed to be having a wonderful time. I was going TDY the next day and it was good to have some time to enjoy together.
She returned and said the area where she’d been riding would be a great place for me to play. Hearing that, I decided to put on my gear and mount up. She was right. When I got there, I saw some nice built-up turns, a few whoops and a couple of makeshift jumps " nothing too serious and definitely within my skills. Although the ATV was still in its break-in period, I decided to “get on it” a bit to feel how it handled in the turns and whoops. On my second pass, I held back a little, entered the jump too slowly and landed on my front wheels. Fortunately, I knew from experience to shift my weight back to keep the ATV’s rear end down. I chuckled at my own “rookie” mistake.
I didn’t repeat that mistake on my third jump. I gave the ATV plenty of gas and hit the jump just right. Eager to go around and do it again, I took what appeared to be a shortcut back to the ramp area. I hurried along the shortcut, not realizing that it veered sharply to the right. I couldn’t make the turn and ended up going straight over another berm with a 4-foot drop on the far side. Oops! There was nothing I could do but bail " something at which I had a bit of experience.
I tried my best to soften my ground impact, but after the dust settled, my left hand was tingling and pain wracked both knees. I checked myself to see if anything was broken, but everything moved OK. That said, my pants were ripped open in the knees, and I could see bloody wounds where I once had skin. Hobbling painfully, I collected the ATV and headed back to my truck. As I did, I had time to consider my lessons learned.
First, I blew it by not taking the time to get familiar with the area. The dirt was much softer than I was accustomed to and there were hidden turns I wasn’t aware of. I’d ridden in unfamiliar places in the past and used my skills to bail me out of trouble. I usually got away with it " but not this day.
Second, I was unfamiliar with my new ATV and relied on past experience to overcome any handling differences. All ATVs don’t handle the same, even if they do have certain characteristics in common. However, I let that make me complacent rather than take the time to really learn my new machine. On top of that, I knew I was pushing the ATV too hard during its break-in period trying to do those jumps. I should have waited until a later date.
Third, I’d ridden for years without shin guards or knee protection and had always gotten away with it. I’d rarely crashed and, when I did, had only minor injuries. I was overconfident and complacent because I’d successfully dodged the bullets in the past " that is, until one finally connected. That’s when the blood principle kicked in.
It could have been worse. Aside from some badly scraped knees and sprained wrists, at least I was able to walk away from this accident. I’d made a deposit on the blood principle that day, and you can write “overconfident” on that check. I learned enough that day that I don’t want to make any future deposits. This is one account I never want marked “Paid in full.”
Do you ride an ATV? What would you have done different that day? What suggestions would you make to prevent future ATV accidents? Remember, not everyone walks away (see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Knowledge, October 2010). Why not take a few moments to share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org?
Also, do you have a good “It Happened to Me” story to tell? Why not share what you’ve learned with others through this magazine? And if you’d prefer, we don’t have to put your name on it. Just think about it. You might keep someone else from learning the hard way.
Got ATV? Got Internet? Check out the following website http://www.atvsafety.org/