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Originally published Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 06:04a.m.

Riding off-highway vehicles (OHVs) is a great activity for families to enjoy together as they get outdoors and explore Arizona. But whenever you go out on trails and unimproved roads, ensure that you are doing so safely. Every year there are too many fatal accidents, and as chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, I want to stress the importance of OHV safety and education in an effort to help prevent these tragedies.

My family and I love exploring Arizona’s roads and trails on OHVs, but one thing always comes first: safety. And as more people explore our beautiful state from a dirt bike, all-terrain vehicle or utility-type vehicle like a side-by-side, safety must be the No. 1 priority for everyone involved.

Properly fitting safety equipment is one of the most important things to have before leaving the house — make sure everyone in your group has the necessary gear before you reach the trailhead. While a U.S. Department of Transportation-rated helmet designed for motorized vehicle use is required for all OHV riders younger than 18, please take the potentially life-saving step of making sure everyone in your family or group is wearing one. After all, it’s the most important piece of equipment you can wear.

Before hitting the trail, make sure to leave the details of your travel plans with family and friends. A travel plan outlining where you’re going, who is traveling with you and when you expect to return is an important way to document your plans so people know where to look if you don’t return by the planned time.

In addition, these safety principles will help to keep you and fellow off-roaders safe: If your OHV has a seat belt, wear it; carry only the number of passengers recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer; and ride sober. Drugs and alcohol can impair your skill and judgment, which are both essential when operating an OHV.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a unique role when it comes to OHVs. In addition to conserving Arizona’s diverse wildlife and habitats, we’re responsible for developing and enforcing OHV regulations. The department’s mission includes maintaining access to OHV-related activities with safety at the forefront of all initiatives.

Whether we’re home in Yuma or at our cabin near Williams, we see many people safely enjoying their OHVs. Thanks to responsible riders who set a great example for the off-highway vehicle community by doing everything within your control to be safe.

Get outdoors and ride to places only accessible by an OHV — you can find great areas to explore year round in Arizona — but remember to wear a helmet and ride responsibly. You’ll have an amazing time exploring our state, and more importantly, you’ll return home safe and ready to plan your next adventure.

James R. Ammons is chairman of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.