A spate of accidents in York, Chester and Lancaster counties that have killed two all-terrain vehicle riders and injured three others has ATV enthusiasts and safety advocates calling for caution.
Byron Hager, general manager of Hager Cycle World on Riverview Road in Rock Hill, says safety must come first when people take their 4-wheelers out for a spin.
"If you don't teach safety to start with - not wearing a helmet, not wearing goggles - you'll get hurt," said Hager.
He emphasized the importance of safety training that includes educating riders about the importance of using helmets, goggles, shin and knee guards and protective body gear.
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"A lot of people don't understand the product," Hager said, "so they don't know they need the safety gear."
ATVs are getting a bad name because of accidents, he said, but he believes the root of the problem is discipline.
As with any vehicle, Hager said, riders should not drink or do drugs when operating ATVs.
They also should focus on the road or trail ahead, especially when making a turn, and familiarize themselves with the terrain before driving on it.
ATVs can weigh anywhere from 600 to 1,000 pounds, he said.
"When that ATV starts to turn over," he said, "it'll crush you."
At least three ATV accidents have been reported in York, Lancaster and Chester counties in the past month.
Two have been fatal.
James Arant, 35, of Lancaster County died Thursday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte from injuries suffered after the ATV he was driving collided with a deer on Taxahaw Road in Lancaster County the night before.
Arant's two children - a 13-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy - were taken to Springs Memorial Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Earlier this month, Andrew Dean Frasure, 23, of Iron Station in Lincoln County, N.C., was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center after he flipped over an ATV on U.S. 321 in Clover.
Frasure was found lying on the roadway. He died the next day.
Another man flipped his ATV Thursday night in western Chester County and was taken to Carolinas Medical Center, but a condition and more details were not available Friday.
According to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, 128 people died in ATV-related accidents in South Carolina between 1982 and 2009 - although data collection is incomplete for 2007 through 2009.
Of the 128 deaths, 35 were children younger than 16.
Among those are:
A 6-year-old girl killed while driving an ATV across a Lancaster County highway in 2007. She was not wearing a helmet at the time.
A 7-year-old in Hickory Grove was killed in 2008 after he collided with a pulpwood truck.
Safety law in effect
South Carolina does not have an agency that regulates ATVs. According to the CPSC, ATVs are permitted for use on state park and forest lands with designated trails.
This year - after several attempts in past years were thwarted by vetoes from former Gov. Mark Sanford - a new ATV safety law took effect.
It requires children 15 and younger to:
Complete safety training before operating an ATV
Wear helmets and protective eye gear
Be accompanied by an adult
The law also makes it illegal for children younger than 6 to operate an ATV, and anyone younger than 16 is not allowed to have a passenger with them.
Hager, who supports the new law, encourages parents who allow their children to ride ATVs to learn the proper operation and safety measures.
"Sometimes parents think an ATV is a babysitter," he said. "It's not. ... You can get hurt really easily by not paying attention."
Hager, who has been riding off-road for more than 40 years, emphasizes the importance of protective gear - especially helmets and goggles.
He also suggests a ballistic jersey or body armor, knee guards, shin guards, boots and gloves.
"It's preventative maintenance," Hager said.
"It's cheaper than one trip to the emergency room."