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Published on May 22, 2017

Let’s prevent catastrophic ATV-related injuriesLet’s prevent catastrophic ATV-related injuries

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) may sport premium bucket seats, on-demand four-wheel drive and heavy-duty underbodies these days, but a false sense of security can easily turn a weekend ride into tragedy.

A new study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine concluded, “All-terrain vehicle-related injuries remain a large public health problem in the U.S. and disproportionately affect American youth.”

Researchers identified the major risk factors as young ATV drivers and a lack of appropriate safety equipment, which the study claims “are entirely preventable.”

James Rodriguez, MD, emergency medicine physician who works at Cape Cod Hospital and Cape Cod Healthcare Urgent Care Centers sees the downside of reckless ATV rides firsthand.

“I never again want to have to tell parents their child may not walk again because of an all-terrain vehicle accident that could have been prevented,” he said.

“Over my past 10 years in emergency medicine at Cape Cod Healthcare, I’ve seen ATV accidents resulting in spinal cord injuries, concussions, head trauma and intracranial bleeding, long-bone fractures and rib fractures in addition to multiple minor injuries.

“People seem to think ATVs are not as dangerous as cars or motorcycles even though they have no doors, no roofs and a large potential for rollover. ATVs can be very dangerous, especially when ridden recklessly.”

His warning is punctuated by the latest statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission ATV Annual Report. In 2015, there were an estimated 97,200 ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries in the U.S.; 28 percent of which involved children under 16.

A recent study demonstrated that laws restricting the use of ATVs by kids significantly reduced serious injuries tied to the vehicles. The law that went into effect in 2010 banned children under the age of 14 from using off-road vehicles like ATVs and put more safeguards in place for teens up to age 18.

According to the study, after the law was implemented, the number of 10- to 12-year-old kids discharged from the ER for injuries related to ATVs dropped by half. There were similar, though slightly smaller, declines seen in younger children and older teens.

The Illusion Of Safety

Dr. Rodriguez explained why a false sense of security makes ATVs dangerous.

“Because they are not regulated like motor vehicles and motorcycles, some people have the illusion of safety regarding ATVs,” he said. “You may not have to wear a helmet, but you should. We don’t let people ride skateboards without helmets.

“When you are on your own property driving for recreation, you feel safe. You don’t think you are a danger to yourself or others in your own backyard. Rules of the road don’t apply, so people think there are no rules, and they have accidents that can carry lifelong consequences.”

Dr. Rodriguez said he sees many accident victims in their late teens and early 20s. Often, he says, victims of ATV accidents are intoxicated.

“If you drive recklessly, that’s one thing,” he said. “If you drive under the influence, you have slower response times and a diminished ability to navigate vehicles.”

Last winter, Dr. Rodriguez watched a driver with no helmet revving up his ATV on a snow-covered road then breaking into uncontrollable skids—for fun. It’s the kind of fun that can overturn a four-ton machine, breaking your body in ways you never dreamed. Ways Emergency Medicine Physicians confront too often.

“I’d like to encourage everyone to take ATV safety courses, follow these basic safety tips, and think before you do something reckless that can ruin your health,” he said. “I don’t want to meet you in the emergency room.”

Cape Cod Healthcare and the Consumer Product Safety Commission urge riders to follow these ATV safety tips:

  • Never drive ATVs on roads.
  • Do not allow a child younger than 16 to operate or ride as a passenger on an adult-size ATV.
  • Do not drive ATVs with a passenger or ride as a passenger if it is a single-rider model.
  • Always wear a helmet and other protective gear such as eye protection, boots, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
  • According to the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, operators under age 18 must take the Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Safety and Responsibility Course to legally operate in Massachusetts. The first part of the course is available online.