UW News

May 15, 2008

All-terrain vehicle use by children sparks concern

By Kellie Tormey
Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center

With the onset of warmer weather, physicians at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle have reported seeing an increase in cases involving children injured while using all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The trend is generating concern among local pediatric and trauma experts. In separate incidents last month, two children were seriously injured while riding ATVs driven by other children. None were wearing helmets.

“Ownership of ATVs is on the rise, and it is important to emphasize that ATVs are not toys, but heavy, dangerous machinery,” said Annemarie Relyea-Chew, UW assistant professor of radiology and researcher at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center. “Generally, children under 16 lack the physical maturity and experience driving motorized vehicles. They should not be permitted to operate ATVs.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a report that found in 2005, 44,000 children were hospitalized due to ATV accidents; children under 16 accounted for 30 percent of all off-road vehicle injuries; and the number of children hospitalized has increased by 109 percent over the last decade. One-third of all deaths attributed to ATV use have been in children younger than 16. Head injuries account for most of the deaths, while serious nonfatal injuries include head and spinal trauma, abdominal trauma, and multiple trauma.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends prohibiting the use of four-wheeled off-road vehicles by children younger than 16. They also suggest that youth not licensed to drive a car should not be allowed to operate off-road vehicles, and that helmets be worn at all times. “Furthermore, it is important that owners and users of off-road vehicles, in particular ATVs, take safety courses on how to properly handle these vehicles,” added Relyea-Chew. “There are many courses available, and ATV dealers have the resources to direct purchasers to appropriate materials and safety equipment.”

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has called ATV use a significant threat to public health, and along with the AAP, has issued recommendations for ATV use by children that include:

• Prohibit the use of four-wheel off-road vehicles to children younger than 16.

• Children not licensed to drive a car should not be allowed to operate off-road vehicles.

• Injuries occur frequently to passengers, therefore riding double should not be permitted.

• All riders should wear approved safety helmets, protective eyewear and protective, reflective clothing. Helmets should be size appropriate, designed for motorcycle (not bicycle) use, and should feature a visor/face shield.

• Engine covers on small two-wheeled vehicles such as mopeds and mini-bikes may reduce burn injuries, and sturdy leg guards are recommended to protect riders from sideswiping or brush injuries.

“Serious injuries will have lifelong consequences for children and their families,” said Relyea-Chew. Because laws related to the use of motorized vehicles by children vary from state to state, she suggested parents and communities must work together to ensure the safety of children around motorized vehicles. Relyea-Chew has studied issues related to the use of motorized vehicles by children for the past five years.