'Show me where the throttle is... now show me the choke'

SALEM, Ore. - "I wish they had done this when I was kid," Jason Marshall told us.

His 6-year-old son was one of several young four-wheel ATV riders who showed up this week at the Oregon State Fair & Expo Center in Salem to get evaluated for their Youth Rider Endorsement.

The endorsement is a fairly new requirement in Oregon (it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012) for riders between 6 and 15 years old. In addition to taking an online safety exam for their operator's permit, young riders must also demonstrate that they know what they are doing. That means taking a class where their skills are evaluated.

Master Instructor Bev Stubbs was the person the kids had to impress at this week's class and we stopped by to see her and the students in action.

Stubbs kept a close eye on the kids - making sure they knew how to start and stop their ATV, negotiate turns, perform an evasive maneuver and travel over obstacles. The kids were also tested on their ability to make quick stops in either a straight line or a turn.

And her grandson, 12-year-old Dameck Stubbs, was there to show the kids how it's done.

"Basically, my grandmother explains the maneuver that they are having to do and I demonstrate what they're supposed to do," he told us.

Dameck rides like a pro (that's him in the photo below), but when we asked him if he considers himself an expert, he said "um, I wouldn't say that," with a bashful smile.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

Before the field test even began, the kids were quizzed on their knowledge of ATVs. "Show me where the throttle is," Stubbs would ask each one of them. "Now show me where the choke is. How about the ignition switch?"

The kids also had to demonstrate that they understand the ethics they should follow while riding - like staying on the trail and respecting the outdoors. Also, did you know that when an ATV rider encounters someone on a horse, they should pull to the side of the trail and take off their helmet? That way the horse won't get spooked.

That's one of the things that 12-year-old Damon Hodge, who has been riding ATVs since he was four years old, admitted he didn't know. He and his sister, 15-year-old Kassidy Hodge (she's been riding since she was five years old), were both there to get evaluated.

"I was nervous at first, but once I realized it was just going around cones, it wasn't really that hard," said Kassidy.

"I was nervous at first too, like my sister," said Damon. "But then it got better."

Both Damon and Kassidy passed, but not every kid made the cut. The evaluation is tough and Stubbs holds the kids to high standards. If she sees that one of them isn't quite getting it, she'll tell them to practice some more and then come back and try again.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

Two kids didn't pass during this particular evaluation. One was a teenage girl whose only experience on an ATV had been a quick ride the day before. She struggled during the test and had to get off the ATV and put her helmet away. The other was a 6-year-old boy who knew how to ride, but clearly needed some additional instruction.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

"He wasn't ready," Stubbs said. "I wouldn't want him to be out riding."

It's not easy to send a kid away, though.

"(The most challenging thing is) when I have to tell a parent their child doesn't pass," Stubbs said. "That's the hard thing because you have to break their little hearts."

But capable riding is important and she knows that. "If they don't know how to do it safely, that's when accidents happen," she said.

Of course, that begs the question of whether kids should be allowed to operate ATVs in the first place. We asked Stubbs, who has been riding motorcycles and ATVs all her life, what she would say if a parent told her 'I would never put my kid on an ATV.'

"I would tell them that's their choice," she said. "But the ATV is only as dangerous as the rider. If the rider doesn't know how to use it properly, then you're going to have problems. The ATV can't harm anybody just sitting there. It takes someone to get on it, turn it on and drive it."

"It's like anything else - you have to teach your kid how to do it," said Brad Hartsook, who was there with his 7-year-old son, Ryker (he's the young boy in the raw video below demonstrating his ability to weave around cones). "It's a parent's responsibility to make sure their kid is safe. That's the way I feel about it."

Kassidy and Damon's mother, Lydia Hodge, said don't knock it until you try it. "(I would say that) obviously, they have never ridden one of these because they're a blast," she said. "It would be like saying kids shouldn't ride horses."

"I don't want this sport to go away," said Stubbs. "People forget that it's a family sport and it keeps families together. My kids rode and my grand-kids all ride."

Tips for Parents

The evaluation for the Youth Rider Endorsement through this program is not a training class - your child must be able to demonstrate that they already have the skills to ride an ATV. Make sure they get lots of practice ahead of time.

Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

Review the Rider Guide carefully with your child. It has all the information they will need to know before taking the evaluation.

Your child will need to bring their Oregon All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Education Card with them to the class. That's the card they get after taking the state's required online course.

Once you feel your child is ready, find a class. Be sure to review the class requirements carefully - your child will also be judged on things like whether they are wearing proper riding attire or if their ATV is in proper working order. There is also a waiver you must bring with you.

If you're looking for some professional training for your kids, the ATV Safety Institute has instructors that will work with them. Their classes also include the evaluation for the endorsement should your child be ready for it.