MONDAY, Nov. 26, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- While riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) may seem like a fun activity for your child, too often it can end in a serious injury and a trip to the emergency room.
In fact, deaths and hospital visits related to ATV use have more than doubled in the past decade, and a new study reports that the most common injuries that youngsters sustain include serious injuries such as broken legs and arms, skull fractures, brain injuries and hemorrhages.
"Parents need to understand that ATVs are not toys. We tend to think short-term and believe that we're giving children a toy or some kind of entertainment with an ATV," said study lead author Dr. Chetan Shah, a radiology fellow at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. "But, remember, a trip to the ER is in no way recreational."
According to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 467 people died from ATV-related injuries in 2005. In 1995, that number was 200 people. In 2005, 136,700 Americans were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries, up from just 52,200 in 1995.
Because injuries and deaths from ATV use are rising so dramatically, Shah and his colleagues wanted to learn exactly who is getting injured and what types of injuries are occurring from ATV use.
For the past 10 years, the researchers have collected data on any child treated for an ATV accident in their Arkansas hospital. In that time, they've treated 455 children, ranging in age from 6 months to 19 years old. The average age of the ATV riders was just over 11. There were more injured boys (318) in the study than girls (137).
Six children died as a result of their injuries, and Shah said it's important to note that this study only included people who were brought to the emergency room. The actual number of deaths may be higher because if a child died at the site of an ATV accident, it wouldn't have been included in this study. None of the children who died were wearing helmets.
Seventy-seven of the injured children had skull fractures, 62 had hemorrhages, and 53 had brain injuries. Twelve children had spine fractures, and three of those had spinal cord injuries. Thirty-two children had injuries to their lungs. One hundred and fifty-nine children had fractures of their extremities, most often a leg bone. Eleven children had to undergo amputations as a result of their injuries.
Shah said their youngest patient was 6 months old and had been riding with his mother. The infant suffered a fractured thigh bone and, as a result of the injury, will walk with a permanent limp. "I would like to ask that mother, when your child is older and can't participate in sports because of his limping, what will you say when your child asks, 'Why did you put me on that ATV?' Will she have an answer for that?"
Shah said his study also includes two different 2-year-old ATV drivers, who managed to start the devices and ride them without their parents' knowledge. One was found unconscious next to the ATV. She had a severe brain hemorrhage and is permanently disabled as a result of the accident.
"I think parents probably don't have a real picture of the consequences and the injuries these machines can cause," said Shah, who presented his findings Monday at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting, in Chicago.
Shah recommended that children not ride ATVs until they're at least 16, but added that size is probably a more important determinant of who can probably control an ATV, and said he'd like to see some sort of sensor built in to these machines so it wouldn't start unless you were of a particular weight.
"Ideally, no child under the age of 16 should ever operate or ride on an ATV. They are simply not big enough to control the vehicle, and they don't yet have the cognitive skills to avoid crashes," Dr. Barbara Gaines, director of the trauma program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said in a statement.
Beverly Losman, director of SafeKids Georgia and manager of child health promotion at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, said she believes that parents aren't aware of the real risks inherent with ATV use. "If you're going to have your child ride an ATV, we want you to know what to do and take steps to help prevent accidents and minimize the risks."
She advised parents to make sure that children always wear a helmet, goggles and other protective gear. They should wear long pants and boots, instead of shorts and sneakers. ATVs were designed to be used by one rider at a time, and Losman said that's very important to stress to children, because accident often happen when there's more than one rider. Another big risk comes from riding on paved roads. Losman said ATVs should only be used on trails designed for their use. Additionally, Losman recommended that parents maintain these vehicles properly, ensuring that the tire pressure is correct and that the control cables and chain are adjusted properly.
To learn more about ATV safety, read this information from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.