Each year, more children in the United States die from all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents than from bicycle accidents, according to a new study published in the Nov. 24 online journal Pediatrics. The biggest risk, report the researchers, occurs when children ride an adult-sized ATV.
For the study, the investigators analyzed data from 10,000 ATV-related deaths reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1985 and 2009. Their findings showed that in 2006, ATV fatalities increased by 40 to 140 percent, depending on the victims’ age group.
The research team identified four key reasons for the high death and injury rate associated with kids’ and teens’ ATV use: riding an adult-sized ATV; riding on the roads; carrying a passenger or riding as one; and opting not to wear a protective helmet.
The team, led by Gerene Denning, PhD, director of emergency medicine research at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, found that 95 percent of all deaths occurred when children were riding adult-sized vehicles.
“No matter how exceptional you believe your child or teen to be, minors do not have the cognitive or physical maturity to operate adult ATVs,” Denning told HealthDay. “Every parent should imagine their child losing control, rolling over, and being crushed by a vehicle weighing hundreds and hundreds of pounds. That is a growing reality.”
Because of kids’ smaller body mass, shorter arms and legs, and smaller hands, it is harder for them to balance the vehicle, operate the brakes and absorb shocks. “Kids can be launched off the ATV when hitting a bump or a rut,” Denning warned.
When victims were grouped by age, findings indicated there were 234 deaths in children 6 years or younger, 849 deaths in kids in the 6- to 12-year-old range, and 1,469 fatalities in young people aged 12 to 15. More than two-thirds of the crashes in the 12 to 15 age group were the result of a collision with another vehicle. Most of the younger children died in non-collision accidents.
In addition, the researchers found that among younger fatalities, 75 percent were passengers on ATVs operated by an adult. Older victims were more likely to be boys and to die in a roadway crash rather than an off-road accident. More than half of all ATV-related injuries and deaths were the result of head trauma.
Denning and her team see better safety measures, including helmet laws and better designed vehicles, and greater public awareness of the dangers of children riding all-terrain vehicles as key steps to reducing the number of ATV deaths among children and teens.
“Overall, there has never been a safety culture around ATVs,” said Denning. “Most people perceive them as safer than they are and don’t understand the factors that make them so dangerous. This includes parents,” she added. “We will make very little progress until we have more evidence-based, well-enforced ATV safety laws in every state.”