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Parents need to address ATV safety with their kids

CONTACT:  Mike Ferlazzo: 570-214-7410, 515-450-2908 (c)
June 25, 2013



Some kids just can’t wait to get outside to ride their family’s all-terrain vehicles (ATV) in the summer sun. But before parents give their kids the green light for unsupervised ATV access, they should consider some sobering numbers.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission documented 11,001 ATV-related deaths between 1982–2010 – 25 percent (2,775) among children younger than 16 years of age. And 43 percent (1,184) of those were among children younger than 12.

Carol Hanson (right), MSN, CCRN, pediatric trauma coordinator at Geisinger Medical Center’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, says numbers like those should get the attention of parents about the importance of ATV safety and supervision for their kids.

“Children and adolescents are at increased risk for death and injury,” Hanson said. “And yet there’s not only a lack of potential supervision, but also a lack of laws and/or enforcement of regulations governing ATV use. That creates an ongoing need to provide educational programs for families and children.”

The Pediatric Trauma Program partners with certified safety instructors from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to help to plan ATV health and safety fairs for kids across the Geisinger system. Here are some factors that put children at a higher risk for ATV injuries:

  • They may not adequately be able to reach the throttles, shifts or brakes.
  • They may lack the strength, coordination and motor skills to maneuver an ATV, and the judgment to safely operate an ATV.
  • They lack neuromuscular maturity until the age of 10.
  • They may have poor depth perception until the age of 10
  • They may possess judgment immaturity at least until the age of 18 years or beyond.

Hanson reports that the number of pediatric ATV accidents is growing at GMC, with the majority of those resulting in orthopedic injuries. However, between 40 and 50 percent of the injuries are exclusively to the head, supporting the need for a strict helmet use.

These are the primary reasons she gives for pediatric ATV injuries:

  • They’re carrying passengers
  • They’re not wearing helmets
  • The ATV they’re riding is not the right size.
  • The child is riding on terrain beyond their skills and ability.

“The directional control of an ATV is complex and counter-intuitive,” she said. “You typically have to shift the body to the inside of the turn while applying body pressure to the outer footrest of the wheel. When a bump is hit, the driver needs to immediately determine the throttle setting, steering angle and position of their body on the ATV. That’s a lot for an adult to master, so you can imagine how difficult it is for a child.”

Because an additional rider may result in the vehicle’s instability, Hanson advises riders to “just say no to passengers.”

“ATVs are designed for the rider’s weight to be ‘centered’ with equal weight on all tires,” she said. “Adding the additional weight of a passenger causes the combined rider weight to be over the rear tires. This negatively impacts the steering ability of the ATV.”

In order to reduce the number of pediatric ATV injuries, Hanson recommends parents “not permit children under the age of 8 to drive or ride on an ATV. All children who are potential ATV riders between the ages of 8 and 15 should attend at ATV safety course before heading out on the trails.

“Parental supervision and education is key to a child’s safety,” she said. “For all parents, it is important to talk to your kids about ATV safety even if they don’t have an ATV. Chances are, they have a friend who does.”

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