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ATVs Mean Wheel Trouble

Kids are 12 times as likely to be injured as those over 45

TUESDAY, July 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The back country is safer than it used to be. Increased attention to safety over the last 12 years has nearly halved the death rate among riders of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). But a federal study finds that the youngest drivers, especially males, are much more likely to be hurt or killed.

"The risks for children were greater than we expected," says Gregory B. Rodgers, a senior researcher at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. "Safety efforts really need to focus on risks for children."

ATVs are small vehicles, with three or four wheels, designed for areas where roads are unpaved or non-existent. As the popularity of ATVs grew in the early 1980s, the rates of injury and death skyrocketed.

In 1985, ATV injuries accounted for 106,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms. That's the equivalent of nearly six injuries a year for every 100 ATVs in use.

Also that year, an estimated 295 people were killed in ATV accidents.

That was too much for federal officials, who worked with manufacturers to set rules, Rodgers says. In 1988, the industry agreed to stop selling three-wheeled ATVs. They also agreed to implement a nationwide safety campaign.

Three-wheeled ATVs are less stable and therefore more dangerous than four-wheeled vehicles. However, they were the most popular type of ATV until the late 1980s, and many three-wheelers are still in use.

In 1998, federal consumer officials decided to study ATV safety after the 10-year agreement between the government and the industry had expired. Researchers interviewed 464 owners of ATVs. Of those 353 were victims of ATV accidents or parents of injured children.

The findings are reported in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"We found that the risks [of injury] were highest for children and generally declined with age. For children under the age of 15, the risk was four times higher than for the other ages," Rodgers says.

Children were 12 times more likely to be injured than drivers over age 45, he says.

Not surprisingly, three-wheelers were more dangerous than four-wheelers, and greater experience led to fewer injuries. Also, the risks rose with the size of the ATV engines, suggesting that the extra power allows riders to push them to hazardous higher speeds, Rodgers says.

"If parents are going to allow their kids to ride ATVs, the children should be encouraged to use the less powerful ATVs designed for children," he says. "They need to make sure their children are trained, and finally, probably obviously, they really need to make sure their kids are using helmets."

The recommendations make sense, says Mike Mount, spokesman for the ATV Safety Institute, an industry organization. ATV riders will learn about safety when they take industry-sponsored training courses, he says.

"I can't think of any other industry that offers even half of the educational opportunities about their products as we do," he says.

In fact, he says the industry will even pay $100 to people who take half-day safety classes that include training on an ATV.

What To Do

You and your children can take a quiz about ATV safety from the Specialty Vehicle Institute, an industry trade group.

Learn more about safety and about training classes by calling the institute at (800)-887-2887.

The Children's Safety Network has suggestions about how to prevent ATV injuries.

SOURCES: Interviews with Gregory B. Rodgers, Ph.D., senior economist, Consumer Products Safety Commission, Washington D.C.; Mike Mount, spokesman, ATV Safety Institute, Irvine, Calif.
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