Years ago, my husband and I lived next door to a family of avid motorcycle enthusiasts. They had motorcycle-inspired clothing, toys for the kids, and lots of hogs of their own. On warm evenings, they would park the motorcycles on their driveway, polish them, and welcome neighborly conversation pertaining to the glorious vehicles. Weekends were spent riding them, talking about them, and cleaning them some more.
Now, my husband and I don’t ride motorcycles, but having neighbors who were enthusiasts was just fine with us. Except for one thing. One really, really big thing. They would take their two- and four-year-old kids out with them on the backs of the motorcycles, perching a child behind the driver, with no designated seat or backrest. And of course, no helmets.
Crazy, right? And illegal, on many fronts. Looking back on the situation, I should have talked to them, or reported them, but I didn’t. I was a law student at the time, sans kid, and I thought I was too busy (hardy har har) to get involved. I know they just wanted to have some fun with their kids, but safety and legal regulations should be at the top of the list when considering recreation with children. If you use or are considering using recreational vehicles with kids, here’s what you need to know:
Motorcycles: Helmets are required. For everyone. Period. Children can be passengers, but there must be an actual seat for them, and, unless you want to risk legal liability resulting from an injury, all safety precautions should be taken. Minors age sixteen and up are eligible for a license in a process similar to obtaining a driver’s license. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for more information.
Bicycles: Virginia does not have a state law requiring helmets, but local counties and cities may require helmets on children age fourteen and younger. Richmond has Not yet passed such a law, so contact your local city councilperson if you wish to voice your opinion. Local governments may also restrict the usage of sidewalks by cyclists, including those of any church, school, recreational facility, or business property open to the public. Sign age prohibiting such use must be conspicuously posted, so keep your eyes peeled to avoid breaking local ordinances. State law does prohibit carrying passengers on a bicycle that is not equipped with an extra seat, with the exception that an adult may carry a child younger than six in a seat or trailer designed for carrying children.
All-terrain vehicles and off-rode motorcycles (ATVs and dirt bikes): Children under the age of sixteen may not operate ATVs and dirt bikes, with certain smaller engine exceptions. All operators must wear helmets that are approved for use with motorcycles.
Personal watercraft (jet skis, wave runners): Operators twenty and younger must complete a boater safety course. State law requires that operators be at least sixteen years old, or fourteen or fifteen with proof of boater education carried onboard. Contact the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for more information.
And please remember, safety first! I used to mock that phrase, but as a parent, I really understand that safety is the most generous concern we can have for our children. And as for the legal liability side of it, exercising safety precautions is just about the strongest defense out there. Take my word for it – as a mom and as an attorney.