ATVs Dangerous for Children & Should be Restricted

All-terrain Vehicles, popularly known as ATVs are becoming a major source of recreation for people of all ages in the United States. ATV trails and clubs are springing up all over the country. The most popular time for riding ATVs is in the summer and during the holidays.

Of late, these vehicles have been gaining popularity among teenagers and even younger children. Recent news articles about ATV crashes involving children show that parents and caregivers are playing with fire and taking a serious risk when they allow their children to get on an ATV. In fact, a recent study, the largest ever conducted of ATV injuries in children, shows that these vehicles pose a serious risk of injury and even death among children.

This article quotes Dr. Chetan Shah, a radiology fellow at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Children's Hospital in Little Rock. The doctor sends out a dire warning: Our experience shows that children's use of ATVs is dangerous and should be restricted.

What are ATVs? Whatever they are, ATVs are certainly not to be viewed as a child's plaything, experts say. These are rather powerful motorized vehicles with large, low-pressure tires designed for off-highway use. They can weigh up to 600 pounds and some of them can even reach speeds of 100 miles per hour or more. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 16 years of age not be allowed to operate ATVs.

Here are some other recommendations that the AAP made to policy makers relating to ATV use among children:

  • Children under 16 should not operate off-road motorized vehicles (i.e. ATV, personal watercraft, snowmobile or mini-bike).
  • A driver's license should be required to operate an off-road motorized vehicle (ORV) on public lands.
  • Manufacturers should redesign ORVs to improve safety. This includes seat belts and roll bars on ATVs.
  • Carrying passengers on an ATV should be prohibited.

But there is still no uniform law that governs ATV use among children although many states are considering it. Most accidents are not even reported unless there is death or serious injury because the accidents usually occur on deserted trails or private properties.

That said, even the number of reported injuries is shocking. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that ATV-related injuries in children under 16 have more than doubled from 1995 to 2005. About 40,400 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms nationwide in the year 2005 alone and that number represents a third of all ATV-related injuries that year in all age groups. Fatalities among child ATV accidents have also doubled over this 10-year period with 120 deaths reported in 2005. Another study performed in Texas in 2006 drew a similar conclusion. This study found that 76 percent of the children studied did not wear helmets. Also, against manufacturer's recommendation, they carried passengers. ATVs are not meant to transport passengers. Above all, ATVs weigh a lot more than the children operating them, which causes the vehicles to become unstable when operated by kids.

ATV-related injuries are caused in a variety of ways. It could involve a crash, rollover, ejection or could be caused by not following proper safety procedures. But this recent study states that ATV use by children is intrinsically dangerous because of the small size of the children coupled with the instability of the vehicle and rugged terrain. Many times, we see that children get ejected and the vehicle then lands on them, crushing and killing them. Although some ATV models are marketed especially of children or teens because of their reduced power, there is still the issue of whether kids should be piloting ATvs at all.

One of the main considerations is a child's experience with driving. If a person cannot drive a car or passenger vehicle it is doubtful that he or she will have the reaction time, presence of mind or even the ability to drive an ATV. Recent newspaper articles reported toddlers dying while riding ATVs in their backyard. These incidents happened even as their parents were watching. Experts say these parents make an unwise decision indeed. Here's another quote from Dr. Shah from the Science Daily article that perfectly pins down the problem:

The question is like asking how we can make motorcycle use safer for 5-year-olds? The problem is that 5-year-olds should not be using motorcycles in the first place.

The study also showed that the nature of ATV-related injuries can be very serious including but not limited to skull fractures, hemorrhage, brain injuries, spinal injuries and fractures. Damage to vital organs such as lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas are also found in many ATV crashes that involve children. Some injuries involve loss of limbs and broken bones as well.

The study looked at 500 children who were treated or seen at the Arkansas hospital. Patients were as young as a 6-month-old who was riding an ATV with his mom. Luckily, the baby escaped with a thigh bone fracture. Another 2-year-old patient, who was driving a "child-size" ATV had to have four toes amputated and yet another 2-year-old who was found unconscious near a flipped-over ATV suffered severe brain hemorrhage with permanent disability.

Driver experience and control are considered to be the most common causes of ATV crashes and that explains why it's simply not suitable for use by children. Even among children older than 16 years of age, proper training and use of safety equipment is a must. Helmets are certainly a must as most falls involve head injuries.

The arguments for regulating sales of ATVs meant for juveniles are very strong. Consider these numbers:

  • CPSC estimates that it costs society about $2 billion to treat children injured in ATV accidents.
  • Those costs amount to $550 million in the case of children killed by adult-sized ATVs.
  • A national safety standard could cut injuries and fatalities by half

These are compelling facts that not only make a strong case for legislation, but an even stronger case for parents to stop their children from riding ATVs.

It is not uncommon for us to be pursuing more than one California ATV accident case at a time. Just recently we were called in to represent the children of a deceased father who's accidental ATV accident death occurred in Florida.

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