The ATV culture includes loose regulations -- and kids' funerals

  • Riders start young at the Winnemucca Dunes in Nevada.

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Diezel De Rupp "enjoyed doing his little dance to the Dubstep" -- electronic music propelled by drumbeats and heavy bass. In a photo, the 5-year-old looks delighted, his hair brushed upward in a peak and his shirtfront covered by the Ultimate Fighting Championship's TapouT logo, celebrating martial arts.

The boy lived in the Denver area, but on June 10, 2012, he and his father, Jeremy Rupp, were visiting friends on a farm on the eastern Colorado plains, enjoying a Polaris 500cc all-terrain vehicle, or ATV. That's not unusual in the West, where roughly 3 million of the nation's 11 million ATVs are found. Western ATVers drive more miles than riders elsewhere, and 80 percent of that driving is recreational.

Diezel De Rupp was on the back of the ATV as a local 6-year-old boy drove it around the farmhouse yard. Left unsupervised for a few minutes, the 6-year-old drove to the edge of a nearby gravel pit, where he accidentally went over a 15-foot dropoff. The young driver jumped clear, but the ATV landed on Diezel, killing him.

This heart-rending story comes from the boy's obituary, the local newspaper, and Travis Sides, one of the prosecutors who pressed felony criminal negligence charges against all four adults who were with the boys shortly before the accident and knew they were on the ATV. "It's very sad. No one wanted this to happen," says Sides, who hopes to raise awareness about the risks that ATVs pose.

It's been a chronic problem since ATVs became popular in the 1980s. If past trends hold, more than 400 people this year -- including dozens of children -- will be killed and more than 100,000 seriously injured in ATV wrecks nationwide. That's fewer than in the peak year, 2006, probably because people have become more cautious and are also less able to afford ATVs. (Sales plunged 70 percent during the recession.) The situation is still "awful," says Sue DeLoretto Rabe, an Oregonian who helped found a national group, Concerned Families for ATV Safety. She speaks from experience: Her 10-year-old son, Kyle, died in a wreck on her farm 11 years ago. He was wearing a helmet, but his ATV tipped over as he drove downhill, and he was pinned and suffocated by its sheer weight.

Recent deaths include Kaytee Eisenbarth, a 12-year-old who, on April 7, lost control of the ATV she was driving near Fort Lupton, Colo., and rolled it; like Diezel De Rupp, she was not wearing a helmet. Miranda Anderson, a 7-year-old in Utah, was riding an ATV on May 12 when the adult driver steered too close to a tree and a branch pierced her neck.

Loose regulations, the industry's marketing and political prowess, and the growing popularity of "adventure" recreation are some of the factors behind the injuries and deaths. Western rural culture has always tolerated risky behavior -- rodeos, for instance, or shooting at anything that moves (or doesn't), or driving too fast across empty spaces, sometimes while drunk.

An ATV dealer near the farm where Diezel De Rupp died, for instance, has a fun slogan -- "The Super Toy Store" --and markets the danger with a macabre logo, a drawing of a bloody skull. "If you are looking for fast and furious or just something to infuse a little adrenaline into your weekend," says the store's website, "then you have come to the right place."

Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler
Jun 25, 2013 01:19 PM
At some point, we're going to need a cultural shift: Burning fossil fuels for entertainment is idiotic. Just like smoking tobacco, especially in the vicinity of children, and other shifts in what is acceptable social behavior, the burning of gasoline "for fun" needs to become unacceptable. This includes NASCAR.

If you are offended by my opinion, please make a cogent argument for the merit(s) of entertainment based largely or solely on GHG emitting activities.
Wes Hopper
Wes Hopper
Jun 25, 2013 08:46 PM
I've been a bow hunter for over 30 years in AZ. I despise ATVs and the often thoughtless fools that drive them. I see stream beds torn up, hillsides trashed and the game chased out of sight by the road hunters on ATVs. Most of the ATV jerks aren't sportsmen, they're immature guys that would otherwise be doing wheelies in parking lots to try and impress girls. The ATVs need to be banned from the forests, or maybe we need an open season on the out-of-control drivers with no bag limit.
Grumble..........
John W Stephens
John W Stephens Subscriber
Jun 26, 2013 08:08 AM
As a cyclist, hiker and returnee to Colorado after a 30-year absence I was surprised at the level of mayhem piston-head vehicles have inflicted on the Front Range. It's a disappointment, and yet I say let's keep it up. It's Darwinian. But rather than sacrifice a beautiful state like Colorado, maybe we should promote open-pit mines as the "ultimate riding experience" for these thrill seekers. Let's dedicate played-out mines to a 24-7 experience like no other. It just makes sense, like letting the blind play golf for free at country club courses all night.
Blanchard B Weber
Blanchard B Weber Subscriber
Jun 26, 2013 09:05 AM
The commenters on this article have thus far failed to make a couple relevant points:
First, it's a proper function of law to protect the public from improper actions by others, such as wanton destruction of public lands through thoughtless use of ATVs. It is NOT a proper function of law to protect people from their own stupidity or lack of common sense. That's a big step along the path to a "nanny state" in which the government becomes responsible for everything and people fail to assume (or even acknowledge) individual responsibility for their words and actions.
Second, the article was so involved in recounting the tragedies that occur (rather infrequently) as a result of ill-advised or unsupervised use of ATVs that it failed to acknowledge, even in one brief sentence, the usefulness of these vehicles for legitimate purposes on farms and ranches, where ATVs have replaced horses for many routine tasks, as well as healthful recreation. Perhaps their usefulness is tacitly assumed, as it is with highway vehicles, which take a much higher toll in deaths and injuries.
Lee Udall Bennion
Lee Udall Bennion
Jul 02, 2013 09:35 PM
 I have always thought that bumper stickers should be placed on ATV's when purchased that say"Genetic culling in action".
Walt Foutz
Walt Foutz Subscriber
Jul 10, 2013 02:31 PM
As a backcountry hunter and fisherman I've always despised ATVs due to the propensity of their owners to make new roads, tear up the land, and ignore everybody else for their own amusement. After my daughter was nearly killed on one driven by a 15-yr old boy trying to impress her with his manliness and speed, and my subsequently going ballistic on the driver, every one else in my family understands this point of view. Even for the libertarians who don't think OHV safety should be regulated, illegally trampling public land for the pleasure of the few should be enforced and prosecuted. How can riding ATVs be considered "healthy recreation'? How about turning the damn thing off and taking a hike instead.