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Why Are Three-Wheeler ATVs Banned?

Three-wheeled ATVs were once a thing. However, they went out of production due to liability issues that arose from this dangerous vehicle––also known as the All Terrain Cycle or ATC. But when did this happen and why are three-wheeler ATVs banned?

Back in the 1980s, the ATV market blew up. Models like Honda ATC ATV three-wheeler were growing in popularity. But things didn’t end up going well for this recreational motor trike. Things seemed to go especially bad for people that rode them.

A red 1985 Honda ATC 250R with a blue seat on a driveway
1985 Honda ATC 250R | Mecum

What is a three-wheeler?

A three-wheeler ATV is a version of the ATV four-wheeler that employs three wheels rather than four. They lack a rear differential and the rear axle is solid, according to a Wide Open Spaces article about the history of three-wheeler ATV models. In fact, this version of the popular rec ride varies vastly from its quad counterpart.

an old advertisement for the Honda ACT form the 1980s
The Honda ACT | Honda

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Regardless of the rising death and injury instances, sales were booming. These three-wheeled “death machines” were widely sold to consumers and marketed to children. Due to the weight distribution, the three-wheeled ATV models were built smaller, so younger children could fit on them and reach the handlebars and operating components.

When were they banned?

According to the National Library of Medicine, the sales of new three-wheeler ATV models were made illegal in the United States in 1988. The ban went into effect immediately. The accounts of injury and death in accidents on these rec vehicles earned three-wheelers a bad (and true) reputation. Bottom line, kids were getting hurt.

one red and one green three-wheeler ATV on display in the desert
three-wheeler ATVs | Dirt Wheels Mag

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Ultimately, three-wheeled ATVs were viewed as a health and safety hazard. They were marketed for the impressive basic utility provided by the simple design. But in the end, the All Terrain Cycle claimed too many lives.

Although countless families had days full of fun while riding their three-wheeled All Terrain Cycles, they just weren’t built for safety. The solid axle, small size, and lack of suspension meant even the slightest mishap could turn into a serious accident. Interesting parenting choices combined with careless marketing, oversimplified design, and money-driven dealers combined to make this dangerous machine a true killer.

The worst part of that is most of the injuries and fatalities befell children rather than adults. Three-wheelers were marketed for family fun, but they were often ridden by small children because their size accommodated a much smaller rider than the larger quad ATVs of the time. The loss and liability were just too much to keep the machines up for sale.

Can you still buy a three-wheeled All Terrain Cycle?

Unfortunately, in spite of the 1988 ban you can still find these ATCs. The Honda models and others that have survived the decades are collector’s cycles. In our opinion, they are great for a collection. But we don’t recommend riding one. Definitely don’t give your kid one for Christmas.

With such a fatal track record, it seems pretty wise to just steer clear of the little ATC. As fun as they look in some of the commercials featured in the video below, the fun can end quickly when a rider crashes. There’s a reason that these were banned. We may be able to buy them used, but these three-wheeled ATV machines were deemed so dangerous that they’ve been out of production for over 30 years.

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