Seventeen-year-old Wesley Troxtell of Durant was at a four-wheeling event in Texas in March when the ATV he was riding hit a deep drainage ditch.
The ATV (all-terrain vehicle) rolled four times with Troxtell, who suffered a broken arm and a traumatic brain injury. He was not wearing a helmet.
“When we got him his four-wheeler, we thought he would be OK, that he would be more cautious than the other children,” said Wesley's mother, Linda Troxtell. “It didn't work out that way. Kids get on them and think they can drive really fast and nothing is going to happen to them, but it does.”
Wesley Troxtell was lucky. Oklahoma averages 15 deaths per year due to ATV accidents, said Mike Klumpp, Oklahoma 4-H ATV Safety Coordinator. Hundreds are injured each year in Oklahoma on ATVs, he said.
“I could tell war stories of people who have had kids gone through trauma centers,” Klumpp said. “A lot of parents think they are baby-sitting toys. That really bothers me. Supervision is the key for young riders.”
ATVs are associated with a significant and increasing number of hospitalizations of children in the United States, according to a report by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Over a nine-year period from 1997 to 2006, hospitalizations for ATV injuries increased 150 percent among riders younger than 18, according to the study. The number of young girls injured on ATVS increased by 250 percent in that time span.
In 2010, there were more than 115,000 ATV-related emergency room treated injuries in the United States with 317 reported deaths. The average number of deaths per year for the past five years is 552.
Last year, the Trauma One Center at OU Medical Center treated 117 victims of ATV-related accidents. Sixty of the victims were younger than 18.
Many of the injuries are the result of riders not wearing helmets and other protective gear, kids driving ATVs that are too large for them and riding double, Klumpp said.
“Most ATVs are designed for one person only,” he said.
Oklahoma requires anyone younger than 18 who is riding an ATV on public lands to wear a helmet, but not on private property. A handful of states require a helmet both places, Klumpp said.
Even though it is not legally required, safety experts recommend wearing a helmet at all times.
“It only takes a moment for something to happen. A helmet can save your life,” Klumpp said.
Many of the ATV-related injuries could be prevented or would be less severe if proper precautions are taken, he said. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 92 percent of fatal accidents on ATVs result from behaviors commonly warned against.
The rise in ATV accidents led to the formation last year of ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma, a joint initiative led by The Children's Center in Bethany, Trauma One Injury Prevention at OU Medical Center and the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Youth Development.
The mission of ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma is to provide education and training on ATV use to adults and youth. Oklahoma State University received a grant from the ATV Safety Institute to provide free online classes and hands-on safety training through the 4-H Youth Development.
“We are just trying to make sure people are doing the right thing when they are out there operating an all-terrain vehicle,” said Klumpp, coordinator of the safety classes.
Wesley Troxtell was lucky. He was in a coma for almost a month. His mother thought she would be taking home a mentally handicapped child when, and if, he did awake.
When he finally came out of the coma, Wesley couldn't talk or walk. His prognosis wasn't good, but two weeks ago he walked out of The Children's Center at Bethany where he had been rehabilitating for several weeks. He has returned home to Durant, and his mother expects him to make a full recovery.
“He is almost like he was except for a little bit of memory problems,” Linda Troxtell said. ”He wasn't supposed to do as good as he did. We got a little bit of a miracle.”
Wesley plans to return to Durant High School next fall, where he will be a senior. And he is not interested in hopping on another four-wheeler anytime soon, his mother said.
“He is afraid of them now,” she said.
To learn more about ATV safety and the Oklahoma 4-H ATV Safety program, call 657-7444, visit www.atvsafety,org or email Mike Klumpp, Oklahoma 4-H ATV safety coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ATV Golden Rules
Always wear a helmet and ther protective gear (goggles, over-the-ankle boots, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and gloves)
Never ride on public roads; another vehicle could hit you
Never ride under the influence of alcohol and drugs
Never carry a passenger on a single-rider vehicle
Ride an ATV that is right for your age
Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys
Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed
Source: ATV Safety Institute