ATV riding is a popular form of recreation in the United States, with over 8 million of them in use. Louisiana, as a “Sportsman’s Paradise,” has a significant number of such vehicles. Although they are popular, they are not a risk-free form of recreation, especially for children. The Regional Child Death Review Panel of the Office of Public Health has the sad responsibility of reviewing deaths among children from 1 year to 14 years of age, and ATV accidents continue to be a major source of morbidity and mortality in Cenla and around the United States.
Nationwide, there were 2,620 ATV-related deaths from 2003 to 2006 (44 of them in Louisiana), or about 800 a year. Five hundred and ninety-one deaths (or 22 percent) were in children younger than 16. From 2007 to 2010, there were an additional 385 death in children under 16 in the U.S. Louisiana ranked 19th among states in the absolute number of deaths associated with ATVs from 1982-2009 (228) even though we are only 25th in our total population.
Besides the horror of death, there were over 1 million ER treated ATV-related injuries, over 25 percent of those in children younger than 16 and around 10 percent in children under the age of 12 from 2000 to 2010. Over half of the significant injuries were fractures of the upper or lower limbs or skull, with another 30% involving intracranial or bodily crush injuries. Around 800 devastating spinal cord injuries occurred in children under 16 from 2000-2004.
The total cost of ATV-related hospitalizations amounted to over $1.253 billion from 2000-2005. The cost associated with ATV deaths rose from $673 to $973 million per year for adults, and from $1,987 to $2,395 million in children over the same time period. Spinal cord injuries occurring from 2000-2004 cost $24 million in medical expenses. The total cost of all ATV-related deaths and injuries is estimated at $3,500 per ATV sold in the U.S., and those sales exceed 1 million vehicles a year.
One death is an unbearable tragedy for the families involved. When the death is a child, the pain and sorrow are almost unimaginable. To avoid such tragedies, all parents need to follow some elementary rules: It is illegal to ride an ATV on a public road or paved surface (RS 32:299). Children under 6 should never ride an ATV. No child under 16 should operate an adult sized ATV (engines larger than 90 cc). Helmets should always be worn, as well as gloves, boots, goggles, long pants and long-sleeved shirts (despite our hot and humid climate). Passengers should not be allowed. Children and adults should complete approved ATV safety courses. Parents should always supervise children operating ATVs.
Remember, ATVs roll can and do roll over, especially in rough terrain. They can weigh up to 800 pounds and are not designed for passengers. Although ATVs may be an integral part of the rural way of life, parents, the ATV industry, law enforcement, educators, and public health representatives must work together to reduce the terrible and avoidable loss of life associated with their use, especially among children.
For more information on ATV safety, visit www.atvsafetynet.org.