"Children have no experience or training in driving motorized vehicles, and they're driving them on uneven terrain where they can't see what's coming up ahead of them very well," says T.S. Park, M.D., the Shi Hui Huang Professor of Neurological Surgery at the School of Medicine and pediatric neurosurgeon-in-chief at St. Louis Children's Hospital. "This is leading to an increasing number of fatalities and devastating injuries with lifelong consequences for children and their parents."
Park and colleagues reviewed all cases seen at the hospital over a 10-year span, identifying 185 patients admitted as a result of ATV-related accidents. They found:
- One-third of the patients suffered serious neurological injuries including cerebral hemorrhages and skull fractures.
- Two-thirds of the total patient population had to undergo inpatient rehabilitation.
- Two patients had spinal cord injuries.
- Two patients died.
Park and his colleagues point out that from the time ATVs came on the U.S. market in the 1970s, the vehicles have caused an estimated 239,000 injuries and 600 deaths. About 40 percent of all ATV-related deaths are children.
As further evidence of the dangers posed by ATVs, Park notes that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that ATV-related accidents led to 125,500 visits to emergency departments in 2003 alone.
Park and his colleagues strongly recommend new legislation crafted along guidelines previously proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This would include:
- Banning children younger than 16 from riding ATVs.
- Mandatory helmet laws.
- Mandatory instruction and certification programs for ATV operators.
- Prohibiting ATVs from public streets and highways.