CHARLESTON - A new study says West Virginia has the nation's highest rate of fatal all-terrain vehicle accidents.
The Charleston Daily Mail reported Thursday that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at rider deaths on public roads from 2007 to 2011. In that time, 1,701 riders died in crashes on public roads throughout the nation.
West Virginia ranked third in the number of deaths with 96, behind only Kentucky at 122 and Pennsylvania at 97. However, its death rate of 105 per 10 million people was the country's highest. Wyoming was a distant second with 70. Only the District of Columbia and New Hampshire reported no fatal crashes.
State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous says the popularity of outdoor activities in West Virginia may be a reason for the high rate of ATV fatalities.
"A lot of people who travel to West Virginia to be involved in those types of activities - hunting, fishing, skiing - we have a lot of wonderful activities to offer," he said.
State Trooper B.D. Gillespie of the Welch detachment said in his experience, local residents are more likely to drive ATVs on public roads.
"The locals use ATVs to run back and forth to the stores," he said, "The people from out of state and are riding the trails are just riding from trail head to trail head. It seems like they obey the law whereas the locals don't."
Two-thirds of the crashes happened on public or private roads, according to the study.
Men 16 and older were most likely to die in such crashes. In these crashes, few wore helmets and many were impaired by alcohol, the study found.
Also, crashes were most likely to just involve one ATV.
To prevent crashes, Gillespie cautioned ATV riders to stay off public roads. He said many of the vehicles aren't designed to drive on asphalt.
Baylous said it's all a matter of using common sense.
"That seems to be the biggest thing. If people would use that, there are a lot of crashes that could be avoided," he said.