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Thursday, May 21, 2009

All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) - Summer Safety Tips

As summer nears more and more people are enjoying the sport of off-roading on All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). This sport has been growing in popularity with 2.4 million ATVs in use but, unfortunately, too many are buying ATVs and hitting the trail with little or no training and too many children are allowed to ride ATVs that are too powerful for them to safely control.

Between 2000 and 2006 an average of 640 people were killed and 123,014 people were treated in emergency rooms every year as a result of ATV crashes. Forty percent of the deaths involved children. Between 2000 and 2007, an average of 141 children under the age of 16 were killed and 38,300 were treated in emergency rooms every year as a result of ATV crashes.

A quick Google search of news articles reveal that 15 people were killed while riding ATVs during the past week; two of the deaths involving children under the age of 15.

Off-road vehicles encompass two wheeled mini-bikes, and motor-bikes along with three and four wheeled ATVs. All of these vehicles share common attributes which make them dangerous; powerful engines and a high center of gravity. While the three and four wheeled ATVs, with their fat balloon tires, may look stable, their high center of gravity, little or no suspension, and the ability to attain speeds of 30 to 50 mph easily allows them to tip or roll over in uneven terrain. The powerful engines are often too powerful for young riders to control and they can easily "get away" from their operators. Many of the deaths occur when the vehicle, going too fast, flips over pinning or crushing the rider beneath them. Another common problem leading to serious injury and death of riders is lack of helmet use.

The federal government's Office of Consumer Product Safety along with a number of public and private health and safety organizations have urged legislation to make ATVs safer and to limit their use by children. Unfortunately the states have not taken that advice with only 13 states currently requiring safety training certification for ATV riders.

The ATV Safety Institute (ASI), created by the ATV industry, provides e-training and state by state information on instructor provided training for new riders of all ages. The ASI also suggests basic safety rules that should be followed and prevents its members from knowingly selling ATVs for use by underage riders.

The threat posed by ATVs to children has resulted in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Surgeons (ACS), and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) all agreeing that:

  • No one under the age of 16 should be on an ATV (as a rider or driver)
  • Children 12 and under do not have the body size or strength to handle an ATV
  • Children 12 and under do not have the motor skills or coordination needed for safety on an ATV
  • Children under the age of 16 do not have the judgment or perceptual skills needed to safelyoperate high-powered vehicles such as an ATV

    If you still want to purchase an ATV for your child, North Carolina’s comprehensive ATV law provides good guidance. The North Carolina law:

  • Prohibits a parent or guardian from knowingly permitting a person: - Under age 8 to operate an ATV; - Under age 12 to operate an ATV of 70 cc or greater; - Under age 16 to operate an ATV over 90 cc; - Under age 16 to operate an ATV unless under continuous visual supervision of a person at least age 18.
  • Prohibits the carrying of passengers unless the ATV was specifically designed by the manufacturer to carry passengers.
  • Prohibits a person from knowingly selling or offering to sell an ATV: - For use by a person under age 8. - 70 cc or more for use by a person under age 12. - Greater than 90 cc for use by a person under age 16.
  • Requires every ATV operator to wear eye protection and a helmet meeting U.S. DOT standards.
  • Prohibits ATV operation: - While under the influence of alcohol, any controlled substance, or a drug that impairs vision or motor coordination. - On any public street, road, or highway except to cross or at any time on an interstate or limited access highway. - During the hours of darkness, without displaying a lighted headlamp and tail lamp.
  • Effective October 1, 2006, requires every ATV operator born on or after January 1, 1990 to possess a safety certificate indicating successful completion of an ATV safety course sponsored or approved by the All Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute.
  • Requires all ATVs sold or operated in the state to be equipped with a brake system, an effective muffler system and a U.S. Forest Service qualified spark arrester, all maintained in good working condition.

    The American Academy of Pediatric Surgeons goes further to suggest that modifications be required on ATVs including:

  • Installing seat belts on 4-wheeled ATVs and requiring that the vehicles also have a roll bar to prevent the driver from being crushed by the weight of the vehicle in the event of a rollover.
  • Headlights that automatically turn on when the engine is started should be routinely installed on all ATVs to improve visibility by other vehicles.
  • Speed governors (devices that limit maximum speed) should be installed on ATVs used by inexperienced operators.
  • Efforts made to design ATVs so that they cannot carry passengers.
  • Engine covers on small 2-wheeled vehicles, such as mopeds and mini-bikes, could reduce burn injuries resulting from body contact with the engine and exhaust system. A sturdy leg guard could avoid injuries from sideswiping solid objects or being pinned to the ground.

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