Campaign raises awarness to ATV injuries to kids

Published 1:30 am Sunday, July 13, 2008

Riding ATVs has long been a popular activity in Chilton County, especially among kids. ATV, or all-terrain vehicle, is a broader term that covers the commonly known four-wheeler.

This activity, however, has its risks that can lead to life-altering or even fatal results when safety is not observed.

ATV crashes have claimed the lives of six Alabama children between the ages of 18 months and 14 years, and have resulted in more than 200 traumatic injuries to children and young people under age 18 in an eight-year period, reported State Health Officer Dr. Donald E. Williamson.

“We routinely see injuries in our trauma rooms,” said Kathy Monroe, M.D., FAAP, an emergency department physician at Children’s Hospital. “All are children under the recommended age to drive these vehicles, and many are as young as 3.”

Data reflects a 200-percent increase in ATV traumas seen by emergency medicine physicians at Children’s over the past decade.

In response to these statistics, children’s health agencies have launched a statewide awareness campaign. These agencies include the state Department of Public Health, Children’s Hospital, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and VOICES for Alabama’s Children.

A key component of the campaign is distribution of posters designed to illustrate the risks of children riding or driving ATVs. The 18-by-24-inch posters depict a wheelchair beneath a headline that reads, “This could be your next 4-wheeler.”

Minooka Park Ranger Mark Alexander knows the danger of riding ATVs without proper protection. The park, located in Chilton County, has a system of trails designed specifically for ATV riding.

Minooka follows federal guidelines that prohibit children under 6 from riding the four-wheeled vehicles. Kids age 6-11 must ride ATVs that are under 70 cc, while ages 12-15 must stay between 70 and 90 cc. Only 16 or older may ride adult size ATVs, which are 90 cc and above.

Children without helmets and proper footwear cannot ride in Minooka. Alexander recommends sturdy boots that cover the ankle, in addition to gloves and padding.

“As much riding equipment as you can stand, I would wear it,” he said.

Elbow pads, kneepads, chest and back protectors, kidney belts and shin guards are available for those who desire full body protection.

Alexander also recommends taking an ATV driver safety course such as those offered by 4-H.

Still, some medical and safety experts recommend that no child under the age of 16 be allowed to ride or drive ATVs. But without ATV safety-related laws in Alabama, how can these guidelines be enforced?

The least people can do is require their kids to wear safety equipment, Alexander said.

“If kids wear safety equipment, that’s going to be more practical than not letting a kid under 16 ride an ATV,” he said.

Most ATV crashes involve collisions with immoveable objects and rollovers that often pin the driver or rider beneath the vehicle. Both cause serious, often life-threatening or life-changing bodily harm.

Brain injuries and damage to internal organs are common in ATV crashes.