ALEXANDRIA, Ky. — A northern Kentucky motor sports store manager says people who get behind the wheel of utility terrain vehicles need to take better care in being safe. The advice comes after a tragic incident involving a UTV took the lives of a teenager and young child, and injured another teen in eastern Kentucky.
Jake Clair, NKY Motorsports parts manager, and manager of the JustAPutt Offroad Youtube channel, has been going off the beaten path for just about his entire life.
“Dirt bikes, quads, to full-blown trucks built for the woods, side-by-sides, wherever it’s at. I’ve been doing this forever,” Clair said. “The biggest thing is the thrill, or the adrenaline rush of going out, and the views, and the scenery that you get to ride around and see. These things will go places that you can’t even hike.”
NKY Motorsports sells everything from all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), to dirt bikes, to golf carts, to UTVs. It also sells parts and is a full service maintenance shop. UTVs are generally larger than ATVs, and typically have roll cages for added protection. They allow thrill-seekers and people just looking to get around their land to accomplish those goals with ease.
Every now and then, though, a tragic story comes along that for some people calls into question the safety of UTVs, and whether anyone really needs them.
“It is very frustrating, because if people were educated on using proper safety gear, then we would be fine. A lot of it wouldn’t be attacking the industry. You wouldn’t have people thinking all these need to be taken off the market, they’re unsafe. Generally, it’s not the machine that’s unsafe, it’s the user that wasn’t safe when they were operating the machine,” Clair said.
The latest tragedy happened in early November in Magoffin County. Kentucky State Police say, on Nov. 5, a 2018 Polaris UTV exited the roadway, went over an embankment and struck a tree on Kentucky Route 7 in Salyersville. The 15-year-old driver suffered serious injuries. Another 15-year-old passenger, Angelica Rife, as identified by her high school on Facebook, was pronounced dead on the scene. A four-year-old was also taken to the hospital, and later died from injuries suffered in the collision.
The investigation is ongoing by KSP Accident Reconstructionist Trooper Ryan Hale.
Hale was assisted on scene by Kentucky State Police Post 9 personnel, Magoffin County Rescue Squad and Netcare Ambulance Service.
Magoffin County High School posted about Rife, saying in part, “We are certain that she had a bright future ahead of her. While she will be deeply missed, her memory will live on in the hearts of all those who were fortunate enough to know her.”
Clair said he’s had his own close calls.
“I’ve personally been injured, and my fiancé was injured in an accident where we didn’t have our seatbelts on. She broke her wrist, shattered her hand, had a big gash in the back of her head, and a concussion. I had a concussion, and I had to have 17 stitches in the back of my head. And it’s all because I didn’t buckle in. We were going five miles an hour, and flipped over. And it tossed us out of the machine,” Clair said of the incident, which happened about two years ago. “Now, my machine doesn’t get started until you put that seat belt on.”
He said he tries to impart the importance of harnesses and helmets on all of his customers.
“Most people are uneducated on how to properly strap yourself in. If this is set correctly, these will lock. If you go into a rollover, they’ll lock and keep you in,” Clair said. “That is the most common issue with people having injuries or fatal accidents when they roll over. You can’t stop an accident. You can’t stop an injury from happening. But if you take the proper precautions to protect yourself, just like you would when you get in the car, then you’ll be safe in most cases.”
Clair said people also need to respect the power of the machine they’re operating. He pointed to one UTV in the store, which he said can get up to 85 miles per hour, and weighs upwards of 2,500 pounds.
“There’s a lot of power at your foot. And it’s ready to go whenever you get on it. And if you’re not thinking of other safety items while you’re out having fun, then your fun is going to get cut short sometimes,” Clair said. “It’s just like driving your car down the highway. There’s a reason cops pull you over for it. It’s not strictly just to give you a ticket. It’s because they don’t want to see you get ejected from that car. There’s nobody in the woods, or your backyard, or the field you’re playing in, that’s gonna stop you and say, ‘hey, put your seat belt on.”’
Off-roading isn’t for everyone. Doing it safely should be, Clair said, for people like him who love the thrill.
Clair says there should be more safety courses and more general education for people looking to get into the hobby of riding UTVs.