Here are some sobering and disturbing statistics about all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents in children. According to records kept at hospitals around the United States, there have been 4483 children hospitalized for ATV accidents in one year alone (2006).
And a review of the records from 1997 to the present time showed that the rate of ATV-related injuries has gone up. Not just a small increase in the number of accidents but a 240 per cent increase. And that is despite all efforts of the government and private organizations to educate and legislate this dangerous activity.
What makes these machines so dangerous? Power, speed and uneven or steep terrain. The first ATV models were seven-horse power. Remember, that means the engine has the pulling power of seven horses hooked up together. Today there are 500 horsepower ATVs available on the market.
Many of the ATV-related injuries are the result of high-energy trauma. The injuries reported aren't minor scrapes and bruises. Children and teens with those kinds of injuries and other minor trauma probably don't go to the hospital. So it's very likely the number of accidents is much higher than reported.
Of those who do get medical treatment, spinal cord injury, fractures, and other musculoskeletal injuries are the most common. In fact, that 240 per cent increase in number of ATV accidents among children less than 18 years old is accompanied by another equally serious statistic. There has been a 476 per cent increase in spinal injury during the same time period (from 1997 to present).
There can be injuries to the internal organs as well. Punctured lungs from rib fractures, multiple organ injury, spinal cord injury, and head injuries have resulted in 120 ATV-related deaths among children in 2005. Older children (16 years old and older) seem to have the most serious accidents. Girls have fewer accidents but more serious injuries.
Along with the increased number and seriousness of ATV-related accidents in children and teens come greater medical costs. According to one study based on pediatric emergency records, half of all ATV injuries in this age group required surgery. Added hospital costs are estimated to be in the millions.
What can be done to prevent these life-changing (and life-threatening) injuries? Awareness of the problem is always the first step. Reports like this one are helpful in pointing out to all of us how significant ATV-related accidents and injuries can be for children.
We need better injury prevention strategies. Children and teens who do not have the strength, body mass, and motor control to handle a 500-horsepower machine should not be driving them. Injuries are more likely in younger, smaller children. They are less able to stop a vehicle roll over. Girls have less strength and often have more ligamentous and joint laxity. These two physical features combined together may have a significant impact on their ability to hold up during a rollover or other ATV accident.
Emotional maturity and judgment are important, too but much more difficult to measure. Older children who might be better able to stop a rollover are also going faster and taking more chances. The recommended age for ATV use is 16 and older. Parents and guardians would be wise to enforce this age restriction.
The use of protective helmets that have been sized specifically for each rider must be enforced. Several studies have shown that many children injured in ATV accidents were not wearing a safety helmet.
In summary, the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) poses a significant health risk to children and teens, especially anyone under the age of 16. Many serious ATV-related injuries are preventable.
Experts in this area agree that if everyone followed the guidelines put out by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery (AAOS) for the use of ATVs, there would be a 70 per cent decrease in the number of injuries. And that comes with a huge cost savings and reduced number of days lost at work and school. More importantly, the lives of the children would be saved.
Reference: Jeffrey R. Sawyer, MD, et al. Trends in All-Terrain Vehicle-Related Spinal Injuries in Children and Adolescents. In Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics. September 2011. Vol. 31. No. 6. Pp. 623-627.