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UTVs: Respect the vehicle

Steve Schoening for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 May 2018
UTV's safety

Growing up on a farm in Iowa, I saw my share of on-farm injuries. When I was in fifth grade, my foot was crushed between a loader bucket and a concrete wall. And I wasn’t the only one.

My classmates shared stories involving tractors, combines, augers and balers. A common theme existed in many of these situations: not truly understanding what would happen if you didn’t respect the machine.



Upon receiving a new piece of equipment, we couldn’t wait to get on it. Back then, breaking in a new piece of equipment was more trial-and-error. The operation and maintenance manual was mainly a last resort if we couldn’t figure out how something worked.

Today, safety is at the forefront of farmers’ minds, since even one injury can cause a setback for the business – not to mention the lasting impact on someone’s personal life. Equipment manufacturers have made significant advancements in design and decaling to enhance safe vehicle operation. Many organizations like the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) offer educational programs to advance safe operation of mobile equipment.

While the “operating end” of a mower or baler is treated with respect, workers can mistakenly see equipment like a utility vehicle (UTV) as benign and not give it the respect it deserves. Its appearance can be similar to the much slower golf cart, and people think it will handle larger loads than it is designed to haul. This line of thinking can get farmers in trouble, as not respecting the UTV’s speed and load limits will increase the risk of injury.

Safety basics

It’s been said many times before but bears repeating: Before operating a UTV, it is important to read the operation and maintenance manual. Take the time to do it. This manual is where you will find all safety features and controls specific to the UTV. It outlines the proper personal protection equipment required and includes the pre-operating inspection list to follow.

A common misconception is: On the farm a UTV can be operated by kids. UTV drivers must be at least 16 years old and hold a driver’s license. Some of these vehicles can travel at speeds over 45 mph (72.4 kilometers per hour). Size also matters, as a person either driving or riding in the UTV should be able to have both feet flat on the floorboard while sitting upright with the back on the seat and holding onto the steering wheel or handholds.


Even if traveling only a short distance, wearing personal protection equipment when driving or riding in a UTV is a must to lower injury risk. A compliant motorcycle helmet and eye protection are required to protect the head and allow the driver to see potential hazards.

Long-sleeve shirts or jackets plus long pants will protect the body from injury, while gloves serve to protect the hands. Wearing sturdy boots rounds out the proper personal protection equipment when operating the UTV.

Stay in control

The driver of a UTV is ultimately responsible for the riders’ safety, making sure everyone wears personal protection equipment, uses the seatbelts and keeps their legs and arms inside the confines of the UTV during operation. He or she should only transport the number of passengers for which the UTV is designed and under no circumstances should any passenger ride in the bed.

UTV models capable of reaching speeds of more than 45 mph may be equipped with electronic speed limiters. This allows owners to set the maximum speed, and these may be secured with a PIN code. This is another good reason to read the operation and maintenance manual before turning the UTV over to your workers.

Stay within the limits

Another reason to read the manual is to ensure you understand the load limits of your UTV. Some UTVs can safely haul 1,000 pounds in the bed and tow 2,000 pounds. Attempting to haul or tow more weight will significantly change the way the UTV handles, steers and brakes, and increases the risk of injury.

Safety in layers

Again, the first line of defense in reducing risk is reading the operation and maintenance manual. Take the time to read it. Your family and your workers will appreciate the personal focus on their safety.


If additional safe operating questions remain, the UTV dealer will be a good source for answers. Additionally, associations like ROHVA are excellent resources for operator training and safe operation.

ROHVA has an online recreational off-highway vehicle safety training course that is fast and simple to take and comprehend. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to take this course and requiring your workers to do the same.

Finally, some UTV manufacturers will offer safety services resources for customers. These programs are designed to help businesses, like farms, in implementing a safety program for the entire business because, as mentioned, many of us know someone who has been hurt in a farming accident.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

Steve Schoening
  • Steve Schoening

  • Product Manager
  • Caterpillar