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Fun Karts Teach Driving Skills

Farmers with lots of open space should consider the practical and recreational applications for fun karts. They are a ton of fun for riders of all ages!

I enlisted my 10-year-old grandson, Dean, to help me in the preparation of this article. Beginner fun karts are designed for very young children, and then they get bigger and faster to suit age and ability. Each of these vehicles provides unique opportunities to begin teaching children safe, competent driving skills that are age-appropriate to the learner.

When Dean was about three years old he received his first battery-powered riding toy, a Power Wheels vehicle. By the time he was five years old, he had pretty well out-grown it. Although it only lasted him a short time, the Power Wheels is an excellent tool for pre-schoolers to begin learning initial driving skills.

Dean’s next mode of transportation was a bicycle. As with most kids, his bike gave him a sense of independence and provided him with learning new skills (balance) and experiencing new thrills (speed). He also discovered that unforeseen circumstances can lead to personal injury, and he learned the valuable lesson about looking ahead for hidden dangers and judging distances in the event of having to make an emergency stop or maneuver. Bike riding is great preparation for learning to drive a fun kart.

An entry-level fun kart is where driver training really gets serious. This fun kart has a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, and three-point safety seat/shoulder belts. Due to its low centre of gravity, the two-seat models, when driven as recommended by the manufacturer (at a safe speed for the present road conditions and hazards), safely carry a passenger and driver. All fun karts are required to have overhead brush guards to provide limited protection against obstacles in compliance with American Fun Kart Association standards. All karts are also required to have drive-train guards to protect against entanglement of clothing and hair.

FUNKAR TSVS. QUAD S AND DIRT BIKES

Although many quads are driven by youngsters, too many of youngsters have terrible accidents because quads can go at excessive speeds for kids, they have a high centre of gravity, and lack rider protection. Also, the combination of handlebar steering and the coordination necessary for hand and foot braking are not skills that will carry over to driving a street-legal vehicle.

Another popular recreational machine is the motorcycle. They come in all sizes. These machines have the most potential for serious injury and require both bike-riding and driving skills, but are not a training vehicle for someone just learning to drive.

Children growing up on a ranch, farm, or other rural property spend more time with family activities than children living in a city or town. They also assume more responsibility for helping with the work required to keep such a lifestyle running smoothly. Farmers are especially notorious for teaching their children to drive tractors, trucks and other equipment at an early age. Fun karts are an ideal way for these families to introduce their children to the skills and responsibilities of driving vehicles and machinery. Some models are powerful enough to pull a small trailer for hauling feed or doing chores around the homestead.

My grandson Dean learned some very important points regarding service, preventive maintenance and driving skills when he helped assemble and test-drive his first fun kart.

SKILLS A FUN-CART CAN TEACH

1. How to read and follow instructions and how to use the correct tools to assemble a fun kart.

2. How and why to check engine oil before each use.

3. How to inflate tires to the correct pressure.

4. How to place a vehicle on safety stands before testing or working on it.

5. How to start a rope-pull engine.

6. How to block a wheel when parked.

7. The importance of proper brake adjustment.

8. Why you should keep your foot off the brake pedal until you need to slow or stop.

9. Wet brakes will not stop a vehicle.

10. What speed is too fast for the road conditions.

11. How to think and plan ahead so you don’t get into compromising situations where you can’t back out because your kart doesn’t have a reverse drive.

12. With small wheels and one-wheel-drive karts, you have to get out and push when you get stuck in the sand. This helps one learn to plan ahead.

13. How to back down a winding road if you are headed uphill and your engine runs out of gas or stalls. I tied a safety line onto the front of Dean’s kart and continuously pulled him back up the hill to start over and over again until he learned to back down with full control. This training also taught him what to do if your brakes can’t hold on a hill. This may save his life some day. (Many a person has died trying to back down a road on a hillside and making a simple braking or steering mistake.)

14. How to lose privileges when you don’t follow directions!

SAFETY FIRST

I also learned a good lesson when teaching Dean how to drive his fun kart. A 10-year old who is anxiously waiting to drive his very own fun kart does not have the cognitive reasoning power to understand all the safety points you are trying to explain. I found it necessary to give him visual examples along with the verbal explanations in order for him to fully understand. Remember, when instructing children, your explanations come from your powers of reasoning and are developed by your experiences. Many of the points you are trying to make sound right to them, but they don’t have the mental and physical skills to carry out your explanations. You must be a constant and patient presence while they practice. “Learn by doing” is what develops skills.

One advantage youngsters living in rural areas have over city kids is that they can usually practice driving every day. City kids, on the other hand, have their opportunity to practice driving restricted to those times when their parents can transport their fun karts to a location where they are allowed to operate. Regardless of where youngsters drive, they must have close parental supervision at all times.

When teaching inexperienced young people how to drive, an experienced adult should first drive the kart to show how to drive safely. He must also show the learner where he can and cannot drive, based on his level of skill and experience. For example, my grandson is not allowed to drive along the levy road or any other place on the property where accidentally getting off the road might cause the kart to roll over. Be firm with this rule!

MORE ADVANCED FUN KARTS

There are plenty of fun karts for grown-ups too! Some models come with suspension systems that smooth out the ripples and bumps and have padded seats for extra comfort. Larger touring machines not only carry a passenger, but also your camping gear and spare fuel as well. Summer night runs with a full set of lights can be most enjoyable. You can also get a ski package for the front wheel to overcome the problem of the front wheels “bull-dozing” through the snow. Such accessories make the fun kart available for travel year round.

Fun kart manufacturers include Manco Power Sports, Brister’s Design and Manufacturing Company, and Carter Brothers Manufacturing Company, Inc. I am impressed with the overall quality of these manufacturers’ products and I’m especially impressed with how easy their products are to work on. This is, of course, a prime consideration not only for the consumer, but for the technician as well. For each of these companies, safety is of paramount importance in the design of their fun karts. Brister’s, Carter Brothers, and Manco Power Sports all supply an abundant amount safety instruction using the ASTM standard safety guide for consumer recreational use of fun karts, including a comprehensive driver training video.

Paul Dilger is a retired instructor in the field of farm machinery. He founded the Ag Safety Institute at Cal Poly State University. He currently farms at Santa Margarita, California.

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