I am writing to share my recent experiences with an ATV rental that resulted in injuries to its rider that required medical treatment, so others can benefit from our experience while in the Aegean Islands.
While riding an ATV on Santorini my son’s ATV pulled him off the road when he got too close to the shoulder. He was unable to pull it back onto the road surface, and it went down an embankment and rolled over. He was able to jump off the ATV before it rolled, landing on his head and shoulder, sustaining injuries that required an ambulance to taking to an emergency clinic. My other son was with him and brought him back to a pharmacy after his examination to fill a prescription that turned out to be eye drops. He was in pain, but had been given no prescription for painkillers or an anti-inflammatory, which in my experience is pretty standard in any American emergency room where someone suffers an injury after an accident. My wife is a nurse and she contacted the doctor who was very uncooperative initially telling to come back two days later for a prescription. She finally prevailed on the doctor to provide a prescription for an NSAID. He also told her that he had prescribed a neck brace, not eye drops. After going back to the pharmacy, the pharmacist looked again at the prescription and said, “Now I see what he meant.”
In the meantime I went back to the ATV rental office of Moto Kostas, where the owner told me that the damages to the ATV were 1100 euros, claiming that the frame was bent. If have worked on motorcycles and cars for years, and there is no possibility that the frame was bent. It looked like the ATV may have had a bent axle or strut. It had a cracked fender and luggage compartment, but that was it. I began to argue with him about the charges and he quickly reduced his demand to 800 euros and then 700 cash. He finally agreed to accept 700 on a credit card.
My son who was injured claimed he had been told when he rented the ATV that it came with insurance. But the contract stated that it only had third party insurance, not collision insurance. No collision damage waiver was offered by Moto Kostas and they insisted in cash payments for the rental fee, thus preventing my son from claiming the credit card benefit for the deductible part of his auto insurance in the US.
In speaking with the pharmacy and the hotel staff, we were told that accidents like this are frequent in Santorini. The pharmacist claimed that on a busy weekend day, he typically saw 15 to 20 accident cases in the pharmacy.
Here are a few suggestions that will help you if your are thinking about renting an ATV to tour Santorini or any of the Aegean Islands.
1. First, don’t rent one. They are very dangerous and highly susceptible to roll overs. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says that death rates on ATV’s in the US are 1% and injuries much higher. As with a motorcycle or scooter, you have nothing between you and another vehicle or the ground.
2. Second, don’t even think about renting an ATV if you have never driven one. They may look cute and fun to drive, but they don’t handle like a car. With the large soft tires that have large open block treads, they will grab a soft surface like a shoulder and pull you off the road, as it did with my son. You can try to jerk the handlebar back to the road side, but you are risking a rollover due to its high center of gravity and short axle track and wheelbase.
3. Use your helmet. We saw a number of people zipping around Santorini on ATV’s and scooters without a helmet. At even a slow speed, say 25 mph, if your head hits the pavement, you may not survive the experience. Even with a rental helmet, you will find that you are given a very cheap helmet with inadequate protection. You should be wearing a full face, Styrofoam padded helmet. You will get a sponge foam helmet with an unprotected face. That means that if you hit your face on the payment, not only do you not have anything to protect your skull, but you are risking disfigurement as well as broken bones.
4. I have ridden motorcycles and my brother, at age 61 is still racing high performance motorcycles at road courses in the US. Neither of us would ride without boots, jacket and jeans, if not leathers. While you won’t bring your leathers to the Aegean, riding in flips, shorts and Tshirts is an invitation to disaster, if you fall. Every cycle rider falls eventually—everyone.
5. Be prepared for local cars to tailgate you and pass you very close to your ATV. If you must ride, stay well off the shoulder, even if the passing cars make you nervous. Many of the roads in Santorini are hilly. They do have guard rails in some places, but not everywhere. There are no shoulders on hilly roads that do not have a guard rail. In my son’s accident the hill had a sheer drop to about 5 feet below the road surface.
6. Understand that you get what you pay for. Make sure you rent from a company that accepts credit cards and offers collision damage waivers. In our case, there is no question in my mind that we were ripped off by the renter. But being in a foreign country, unfamiliar with the laws and needing to leave in a day, we had no leverage with the rental company. We could have not paid them anything, but we were risking a run-in with the cops or being prevented from leaving the country by the immigration police. It wasn’t worth finding out what would have happened, if had just skipped out on the bill.
7. Get a recommendation from your hotel for a rental company. At least you then have some possibility they might intervene with the rental company and get better treatment than some outfit down an alley using a hawker to drum up business.
8. Emergency medicine in the Aegean Islands isn’t up to the standards of any big city US hospital. As Frommer’s says, emergency treatment there will be “basic”, but free. The comedy of errors for getting the right treatment for my son could probably happen anywhere, but no one I spoke to in Santorini was surprised at our experience. If there are a lot of these kinds of accidents, I am sure there is a certain amount of resentment by the locals, including the clinic docs, that they a providing free care to tourists who don’t have the good sense to rent a car. You aren’t likely to get the kind of care you would get in American ER, if you do have an accident.
Bottom line--rent a car from a reputable rental outfit, and have fun.