Children Account for a Disturbing Proportion of Four-Wheeler Accidents

All Terrain Vehicles (ATV’s) were introduced in the United States in the 1970’s and have grown in popularity and use ever since.  Just as dramatic as the growth in popularity is the increase in the number of injuries associated with ATV accidents.  The number of annual ATV-related injuries has increased from 10,000 in 1982 to more than 150,000 in 2007, with the number of fatalities also increasing from 29 in 1982 to 766 in 2007.  What is rather unsettling about these figures is that more than a quarter of the deaths reported during this time frame were children under sixteen years-of-age.

Not only is the alarming increase of injury and mortality from the use of ATVs attributed to increased use, but to the production of larger, faster, and more powerful ATVs.  The engines of ATVs went from seven horsepower, and 89cc back in the 1970’s, to modern vehicles with motors as great as 50 horsepower, and  600cc.  The original three-wheeled ATV’s were banned in 1988 by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission due to their dramatic injury rates. Since the development of four-wheeled vehicles and the expiration of the ban, ATV’s have once again become more powerful and once again the rate of injury in all age groups have risen.

Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee conducted a survey on ATV injuries.  Dr. Sawyer stated that he was surprised by the prevalence of ATV-related injuries in children that he was seeing and added what struck him was how common the injuries were, how young the children were, and how little awareness the parents had about the dangers of ATV use by children.

In the study, Dr. Sawyer found that the  majority of accidents occur in a rollover, where the vehicle starts to roll and either ejects or pins the rider. This information pointed to the concept of vehicle-rider mismatch, which may be why so many children are injured.  When a vehicle weighs hundreds of pounds and starts to roll, a child does not have the body mass or the strength to correct the rollover.

One interesting fact the study found was the mean age of riders is 12.8 years, which is below American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) guidelines, which state that a child should be sixteen to ride an ATV as AAOS feels a child does not have the depth of perception, cognitive abilities, or the emotional maturity and judgment to operate these vehicles. 

Dr. Sawyer also stated that children see highly trained professionals on TV not only racing, but performing difficult stunts and cool tricks, and then go out and try to imitate what they see and receive injuries in the process. He pointed out that ATV’s are made for off-road use and now we see kids getting hurt on roads they shouldn’t be riding on in the first place.  Dr. Sawyer stated that the most common child ATV caused injuries are intra-abdominal, intrathoracic, or  head injuries.

AAOS has prepared an educational campaign for nurses, emergency department physicians and orthopedic surgeons, and are working on legislation in Tennessee to help prevent ATV injuries in children.  The AAOS has played an active role in promoting ATV safety and preventing accidents and injury.  The organization’s position calls for driver training, safety equipment and age limits on driving.  Dr. Frank Kelly, chair of AAOS said that the Academy “has made injury prevention a cornerstone of our public relations campaigns”.