FARGO — There have already been more ATV and off-highway vehicle deaths in North Dakota this year than in all of 2019 and more than the years 2017 and 2018 combined, according to figures provided by the state Thursday, July 2.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol reports that five people have died in ATV or off-highway vehicle-related accidents this year after a 12-year-old boy from Buffalo, N.D., was killed in an ATV crash on Sunday. Four people died in ATV accidents in 2019 and there were two deaths in both 2017 and 2018.

State officials are not entirely sure why this year has been deadlier for ATV drivers so far.

“I don’t know if people are out on the vehicles more or what it could be,” North Dakota Highway Patrol Safety and Education Officer Sgt. Wade Kadrmas said. “I think crashes, in general, tend to go up or down depending on traffic or weather conditions."

Kadrmas stressed the importance of wearing a helmet and using a seatbelt if the vehicle has one. He added that all ATV operators should familiarize themselves with the North Dakota Parks and Recreation off-highway safety manual, which can be found on the agency's website.

The manual says the most important safety precaution to prevent death or serious injury is to wear a helmet. Helmet use is mandatory for all riders under age 18 and strongly recommended for adults. According to the state's off-highway vehicle safety manual, 78% of all deaths while riding OHVs could have been prevented by wearing a helmet.

The manual recommends helmets that cover the full face, rather than an open-face helmet and urges riders to make sure their helmet is not outdated. A helmet has a shelf life of about five to eight years before the materials break down, the safety guide says.

A helmet should have a stamp or sticker from the North Dakota Department of transportation showing that it meets all current safety standards. Riders should be sure the helmet is not cracked or damaged.

State recreation officials also encourage riders to wear eye protection, gloves, boots, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

It is legal for an off-highway vehicle in North Dakota to drive on a paved road so long as it is capable of reaching 30 mph and it is registered with the state. OHVs may not drive on the slope or ditch adjacent to a road, however. OHVs attempting to cross a road must yield the right of way to all automobiles.

“Before riding on county and township roads, please check with local law enforcement as local ordinances may be more restrictive than state law,” the state’s OHV manual says.

It is illegal for children under the age of 12 to drive an ATV unless it is on private land owned by their parents. And riders aged 12-15 must have a valid driver’s license or permit or have completed an off-highway vehicle safety course to drive one on public land.