Beginning Friday, 8-year-olds may be attending driver education courses in Utah.

Such courses will not allow preteens to be on the highway but will allow them to operate all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and off-road motorcycles.As a result of a 1987 law passed by the state Legislature, Utah became the first state in the nation to require driver training courses for those operating off-road vehicles. The new law goes into effect July 1 and requires all operators to have a valid driver's license or a certificate from an off-road training course.

"I think the goal (of the courses) is to save some lives and save the kids from the bad accidents that can happen," said Mary Tullius, public affairs coordinator for the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. Education should prevent many of those accidents.

The first education program begins May 6. Students will be required to attend six hours of classroom instruction and three to four hours of hands-on training.

"A lot of parents appreciate the opportunity for their child to get that additional training," said Becky Chase, assistant superintendent of Jordan River State Park. "I think (the public) is real excited about it."

But while many think the program is an excellent idea, others believe the state is being too restrictive.

Bob Swain, manager of Swains Inc., a company which sells ATVs, said some of his customers have the attitude that no one is going to tell them who can or can't operate their vehicle since they've already spent $3,000 on it.

"Most sensible people agree with the new law," he said. "Most don't like the restrictiveness, but they see the good in it (the law)."

Jim Ransdell, part-owner of Honda/Suzuki of Salt Lake, agrees the classes are a good idea. "Some parents will take their kids out and just show them the start button. That's an accident just waiting to happen."

Ransdell said he has seen a lot of young kids driving recklessly on ATVs with no sense of safety knowledge. "They're (ATVs) used as baby sitters for some parents," he said. "There needs to be some sort of regulation."

"Will parents turn over their car to a 14-year-old? Of course not," said Mike Applegate, sales manager of Perry Brothers Honda. Yet parents often treat ATVs as toys rather than vehicles and turn them over to their children without supervision.

By requiring a training course specifically designed for those 8- to 16-year-olds who do not have a driver's license, the state hopes to prevent more accidents by educating young riders and their parents.

The course will teach environmental concerns, proper clothing and equipment, machine maintenance, and some first aid and survival techniques, according to Mary Chavez, an off-highway vehicle training technician. The course will also cover the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, as well as fatigue. The hands-on training will provide practice in riding different terrain, climbing, traversing and descending hills, proper weight shift and controlling hazardous situations.

Parents will be required to attend the first hour of classroom instruction with their children, as well as the entire hands-on instruction. Chavez said she hopes that by requiring the parents to attend, they will also learn and will be able to reinforce what was taught to their children.

"(Off-road vehicle riding) has always been a family sport, and we're keeping it that way," she said.

Since Utah is the only state with such requirements, other states and organizations are watching very closely and asking for feedback, said Tullius.

Courses will be taught in Ogden, Provo, Sevier and Salt Lake City. For further requirements and information, call 538-7221.

Laws that went into effect last year include one making it unlawful for anyone under 8 to operate a motorized vehicle on public lands. Another new law requires riders to know exactly who owns the land they are riding on, and if the land is private property, they must have permission to be there. Another law requires all riders under 18, on-highway or off-highway, to wear a helmet.