Three early season deaths in Wisconsin have spurred Department of Natural Resources officials to push all-terrain vehicle safety tips as summer approaches.
Three deaths is not an unusually high number for Wisconsin, and the death rate per 100,000 registered ATVs actually has declined slightly in the past decade, according to DNR data.
But most of the deaths seem to follow a familiar pattern of uncontrolled speed or alcohol use, and the DNR's Division of Enforcement and Science wants to keep flooding the state with safety classes and tips.
"The figure we'd like to stay close to is zero," said Gary Eddy, the DNR's ATV administrator, referring to the number of deaths per year. "We're trying to get the safety message out to as many people as possible so they are thinking about it."
The numbers of ATV deaths in the state peaked at 24 in 2007, which also was the year with the most ATV registrations, at about 314,000, according to DNR data. Since then, the number of deaths per year has stayed between 12 and 18, while the number of registrations has dropped to about 280,000 per year.
The DNR has worked to get local ATV clubs on board with safety training and promoting it within the clubs, something clubs have been receptive to, Eddy said.
"The clubs are taking the initiative to have more members become (ATV safety) instructors and pass on that positive reinforcement," Eddy said.
The DNR also has assembled a recreational safety and enforcement team to traverse the state and set up patrols and provide safety information.
Getting an increased law enforcement presence on the trails has been a big help in Clark County, where miles of trails criss cross the land, said Josh Pedersen, the county's forestry and parks administrator. The county's Sheriff's Department has one officer assigned to recreational issues, logging hundreds of hours on the trails.
"Sometimes, he'll park a truck and trailer in a parking lot, and people who ride the trails know he's out there," Pedersen said. "The presence of seeing him out there, they are more apt to ride cautiously."
For individuals, the most important safety measure is to take a safety course, Eddy said. Another easy way to improve safety is by wearing a helmet.
Alcohol use has also been a big problem. Seven of the 16 crashes in 2011 involved alcohol, and in three cases, the person who died had a blood alcohol level of more than 0.2, more than twice the legal limit to drive.
"When you have a recreational vehicle, recreation can involve alcohol use," Eddy said. "Unsafe behavior is more common."