While ATVs are useful and fun for off-road use, they are not toys, and can be very harmful to children and adults.
By Mary McIver Puthawala, RN, BSN
It’s springtime in the Hudson Valley which means many residents are using all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for tasks, such as farming and rescue work, and recreation, such as off-roading. But before you tune up your ATV for the season, here’s some important safety information to put in your toolkit, especially if you plan on enjoying a summer full of ATV weekends with your children. Are the ATV safety guidelines for teens and preteens different than they are for adults? You bet! And for good reason.
The pediatric trauma program at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, a Member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network treated more than 30 children for ATV-related injuries in the past three years, with more than a dozen admitted in 2015 alone. Of those admitted, the majority required treatment in the region’s only pediatric intensive care unit.
“We have seen many children arrive in our trauma center with serious injuries such as internal bleeding and traumatic brain injuries due to ATV accidents,” says Gustavo Stringel, MD, Chief of Pediatric Surgery and Director of Pediatric Trauma at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “We’ve even seen fatalities.” The cold facts are, riding an ATV has the highest risk of hospitalization of any sport, including high-impact sports like football.*
When it comes to safety, however, there are differing ATV safety perspectives among ATV users; New York State law; and doctors and medical organizations that deal with the fallout from ATV accidents.
The regulations dictated by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) are the first stop. According to the DMV, you do not need a driver’s license to operate an ATV, but children under age 16 have certain restrictions, such as having to ride under adult supervision. However, a child under 16 may ride without supervision on lands owned by a parent or guardian or on any lands where ATV use is permitted, provided an ATV-safety training course approved by the DMV has been completed.
Dr. Stringel stresses that everyone who plans on operating an ATV should take the course, although by law that might not include parents. “Part of the problem is that parents don’t take the course, so they’re not necessarily aware of what they should be doing to protect their children. An ATV is not like a bicycle: It’s powerful, bigger, faster, heavier, and more difficult to control. Parents are not aware of the potential severity of the injuries, which include paralysis and death.”
While parents should start with the basics as required by law, they should go a good deal further in order to keep children safe.
The ATV Safety Institute
How do you know if your child is ready to ride? The ATV Safety Institute (atvsafety.org.) says that although there is no way to know for sure if your child will be safe (thus the need for ongoing supervision!) there are ways to determine if your child is not ready to operate a vehicle of an appropriate size.
Does your child show a willingness and ability to follow rules? Do they demonstrate safety-awareness when on an ATV? If your child has a history of reckless behavior on a bike or a skateboard, then putting an ATV at their disposal might not be a wise move. Also, the ability to make good decisions is imperative. Test them by putting them in situations that require decision-making skills. Do they understand that the behavior they frequently see on TV or video games is dangerous and can result in serious injury?
Also, physical abilities are important to evaluate. Have they had a recent eye exam to ensure good vision? Can they see an obstacle, and can they react quickly with the proper foot, hand and body movement?
Finally, are both you and your child willing to take ATV safety classes, and support each other to practice these critical skills?
The Medical World
While state regulations have graduated requirements about age and responsibility, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)chooses a simpler guideline. The AAP recommends that no one under the age of 16 should operate an ATV, adding that children are not developmentally capable to operate the heavy and complex ATV, specifically due to their immaturity, size, level of physical strength and coordination, and, especially, their lack of judgment.
Dr. Stringel also sees conditions that don’t usually make headlines but that contribute to accidents nonetheless. For instance, as teens gain confidence, it can lead to a false sense of security. “Children are always children,” he says, adding that driving at speeds too fast for conditions or pushing the envelope can result in the vehicle crashing, flipping, or throwing the driver, at the risk of life-threatening injury.
“Supervision is not simply understanding that your child is on an ATV,” stresses Dr. Stringel. Parents should be actively observing their children on ATVs, and many choose to do that by accompanying them on another vehicle. Ultimately, he says, “The job of ensuring the safety of the children falls into the hands of parents.” •
To help keep Hudson Valley children safe this summer, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital offers these tips in a fun infographic. Download a full-size PDF here.