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​The Dangers of Side-by-Side ATVs

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​The Dangers of Side-by-Side ATVs

All-terrain vehicles make it easy and fun to head out into the wild, skimming over hills and terrain that a standard vehicle might not have the capacity to handle. However, ATVs bring along their potential dangers; side-by-sides may bring a unique set of dangers that can increase the risk to drivers and passengers in those vehicles.

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Side-by-Sides: The Key Difference

ATVs, or all-terrain vehicles, are any vehicle meant to head out off-road, over any terrain, including more difficult areas. When they first think of ATVs, most people think of quads: four-wheeled vehicles with an open design, often designed for just a single passenger. On the other hand, side-by-sides have a more closed design and two or more seats. These vehicles can go over rugged terrain, including dirt or snow, and make it easier for passengers to ride together.

Side-by-sides may have the capacity to carry as many as six passengers, with seats situated in pairs. Depending on the terrain, they can travel up to 60 miles per hour or  even faster.

Dangers of Side-by-Side ATVs

Side-by-side ATVs can pose several dangers and hazards. Due to their design, they can handle many types of terrain. However, some rugged terrain may provide more significant overall risks than others. Driver error causes many ATV accidents. Sometimes, the design of side-by-side ATVs can also contribute to the risk of an accident.

Product Defects

The long list of ATV recalls may serve as a first look at the potential hazard of product defects. Common defects may include fire hazards from fuel leaks or overheating engines, brake problems, or mechanical problems with the construction of the vehicle that may increase the risk of a damaging accident. Unfortunately, many defective products remain on the market long before the manufacturer realizes they pose a severe hazard. Many people may suffer serious accidents before the manufacturer issues a recall.

Product defects can prove particularly difficult for many side-by-side riders to combat. Unlike other problems, product defects may remain invisible until an accident occurs. Owners might think they do not have issues with the engine overheating until the vehicle catches on fire. Braking defects may become a severe issue just when the driver needs those brakes most, primarily if they have always worked correctly in the past.

Increased Risk-Taking

Traditional quad ATV riders may not take as many chances behind the wheel because they know their challenges and may provide adequate protection against danger. On the other hand, side-by-side riders may receive a false sense of confidence from the larger cage, often protecting the passengers in those vehicles.

Riders may assume that, since they have climbed into an ATV with a high degree of protection, they can take chances that might put them in a substantial amount of danger. As a result, they may attempt terrain they should avoid or try to enjoy stunts that might pose a danger to them.

Increased risk-taking occurs mainly in younger drivers. According to Wisconsin law, children over 12 can drive an ATV, and children over 16 can drive a UTV. Those younger drivers may beg for the freedom to head out on those vehicles, especially if they already have friends heading out onto the trails.

However, kids and teens may engage in more risky behavior than others. Side-by-sides may increase the risk that teens will engage in those dangerous behaviors since they may end up egged on by their friends or feel they cannot back down even if something goes wrong. Young teens may also lack the skills necessary to pull the side-by-side out of a potentially dangerous situation, which could further raise the risk of an accident.

Rollover Hazards

Due to their larger size and design, side-by-sides may have greater odds of ending up in a rollover accident than smaller quad ATVs. Side-by-sides have a larger, bulkier, and more top-heavy design. Improper weight placement in the vehicle, including having all the passengers on one side or dangerously mismatched passengers in the vehicle, may increase the risk of a rollover collision.

Rollover collisions can result in substantial injury to everyone in the vehicle. A rollover accident occurs when a side-by-side literally “rolls over.” The vehicle can roll in any direction. For example, when going down a steep hill, the vehicle might end up rolling over the front. While handling dangerous terrain, the ATV might roll over from the side if the wheels cannot correctly grip the trail.

In a rollover collision, the entire side-by-side may end up taking damage. Unfortunately, that can also mean serious injury to the passengers. By side-by-sides may provide more protection than the average quad, including roll bars that help cage in the passengers. Passengers can take heavy damage from the road as they roll.

Collisions With Objects or Other Vehicles

Many people love the freedom a side-by-side offers. They may take to the trails with friends following along or head out alone to see everything the gorgeous area offers. Unfortunately, drivers may have difficulty avoiding potential collisions, especially as speed increases. They may run into trees, fallen logs that the ATV cannot climb, rocks, and even other vehicles.

Collision with other objects on the trail can pose a danger to everyone in the vehicle, especially at a high rate of speed. Many side-by-side ATVs can get up to 60 miles per hour. However, those speeds can prove devastating on dangerous and uneven terrain, particularly since ATVs may not have the same level of protection offered by a larger passenger vehicle. A collision with an object or another vehicle may result in broken bones, back and neck injuries, or brain injuries for the occupants of the side-by-side.


Side-by-sides can, in general, carry only a certain amount of weight, especially in cargo. Many workers use ATVs in the daily course of their job responsibilities. They may need to load them down to carry all the necessary supplies. However, in some cases, the side-by-side may only carry an average of 500 pounds in cargo.

In addition, side-by-sides may only have the capacity to carry set passenger weights. Sometimes, owners may overload those vehicles with passengers alone.

Overloading the vehicle can create several potential accident risks. First, overloading the vehicle may increase the risk of tire blowouts and other damage on the trails, raising the risk of an accident. Second, overloading, especially an unbalanced load, may increase the risk of a devastating rollover.

Overloading the vehicle may also strain the engine, leading to problems for the rider. Unfortunately, many people do not know the carrying capacity of their side-by-side vehicles. They may not think twice about loading on as many people and as much cargo as it appears to reasonably carry.

High Speeds

Traveling at high speeds can bring with it a great deal of freedom. Many people love the feeling of the wind rushing by them as they travel over rugged terrain, whether dirt or snow. High-speed travel, however, can pose many of the same dangers in an ATV that it might pose for drivers speeding out on the road. At a high rate of speed, drivers need more time to slow or stop.

Off-road travel means more potential hazards. In many cases, side-by-side riders may not have clear trails to travel the way they would out on the road. They can end up with logs, trees, rocks, and debris in the way, and they may have a much harder time avoiding those hazards at high speed.

Furthermore, high rates of speed can increase the possibility that drivers, especially younger drivers, may lose control of the vehicle. In dangerous terrain, drivers might not have the ability to brake quickly. They might struggle to bring the vehicle to a safe stop or even to slow down reasonably. They might also end up hitting further dangers, including sharp drops, that can increase the risk of many types of accidents.

Unexpected Mechanical Issues

ATVs, including side-by-sides, may need more maintenance than the average passenger vehicle. ATVs go out over more difficult, dangerous terrain, which may face more potential damage. They may throw up more dust and dirt, require regular repair, and take more small dings and damage. These attributes ultimately lead to more damage to the vehicle itself over time.

When side-by-sides do not get proper maintenance, they may have greater odds of equipment failure. When that failure occurs on the trails, it can mean severe hazards for passengers. For example, a broken axle in the middle of climbing over rocks could spell disaster. Steering issues in the middle of a trail could also create a complicated scenario that could prove very difficult for drivers to navigate safely.

In addition, when a mechanical failure occurs on the trail, drivers may have a harder time bringing the vehicle back safely. In some cases, drivers may end up stranded, with no reasonable way to get back to a road.

After a Side-by-Side Accident, Can You Pursue Compensation?

When you suffer injuries in a side-by-side ATV, what comes next? Can you get compensation for your injuries? In many cases, you may have the right to pursue compensation for any injuries sustained in a side-by-side accident. Take a look at these critical questions.

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Does an insurance policy cover the ATV?

ATV insurance can help provide vital compensation in the event of an accident. Many drivers carry ATV insurance to help protect themselves and their passengers due to a devastating collision. While Wisconsin requires ATV owners to register their vehicles, they do not necessarily have to carry insurance on those vehicles. Some drivers may have insurance for their ATV under their actual homeowners policy or even a farm policy.

Check to see if the owner of the ATV has insurance coverage to determine whether you will need to pursue compensation through an insurance policy or if you may need to seek compensation from the driver directly.

What caused the accident?

Sometimes, side-by-side design flaws may lead to an accident. In other cases, you may find that the driver's error contributed most to the incident, including taking dangerous chances, failing to load the side-by-side properly, or attempting terrain the vehicle cannot handle. The party that caused the incident may determine what you need to do to pursue compensation for your injuries.

What injuries did you sustain?

The injuries you sustained in an ATV accident may significantly affect the compensation you can recover as part of a side-by-side accident claim. You can pursue compensation any time you sustain injuries, from broken bones to head and spinal cord injuries, in an ATV accident. The more severe your injuries, the more compensation you may have the right to recover. On the other hand, if you suffer an ATV accident without injury, you may not have the right to pursue compensation through an injury claim.

Contact a Side-by-Side Accident Lawyer to Learn More About Your Rights After an Accident

Russell Nicolet - Attorney for Side-by-Side ATVs in Wisconsin & Minnesota
Russell Nicolet, Side-by-Side ATVs Lawyer

While side-by-sides can provide a lot of fun, they can also introduce several serious dangers. If you suffer injuries in an ATV accident due to the driver's negligence or a design flaw in the vehicle, you may have the right to compensation.

Contact a side-by-side accident lawyer as soon as you can after your accident to learn more about your rights and whether you can reasonably pursue compensation for your injuries.

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