(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – All-terrain vehicle use has gained popularity in the United States, but a new study is shedding a light on the dangers of these vehicles to kids and the need for additional measures to keep them safe. The study finds nearly 280,000 children under 18 years were treated in U.S. emergency departments over 25 years for ATV-related head and neck injuries – an average of 31 children every day.
“These are very serious injuries. In fact, over 15 percent of the children required admission to the hospital,” said Gary Smith, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study. “When you’re going 30 miles an hour and you hit a tree, you may not get a second chance. At that speed, with heavy machines like that, one mistake can be life-changing.”
Experts say most of these injuries are preventable, and following the safety recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics can help keep children safe. One major preventive measure they recommend – stay off of roads of all types because ATVs are designed strictly for off-road use. The study found that children injured on roadways were one and one-half times more likely to be admitted to the hospital than those injured at other locations. It is also important for anyone operating an ATV to wear safety gear such as goggles, gloves, sturdy closed-toe shoes or boots and, the most critical piece of equipment, a motorcycle-style helmet. But even with all these safety measures, children who are not old enough to operate a car (16 years of age) should also not be operating an ATV.
“Almost half of the injuries observed in the study were to children under the age of 12,” said Kris Jatana, MD, a pediatric head and neck surgeon at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and co-author of the study. “These children are simply too young to safely drive an ATV, which requires advanced coordination and quick judgment to prevent crashes.”
State laws vary widely and can send a muddled safety message to kids and parents, with some allowing children as young as eight to operate ATVs. Experts are urging lawmakers to enact consistent regulations that require appropriate helmets, prohibit passengers, allow ATVs to operate only off-road and put appropriate age restrictions in place.