While deaths and injuries have declined in recent years, children and young teens continue to be hurt and killed while riding all-terrain vehicles, according to a new Consumer Product Safety Commission report.
With the arrival of spring break and warm months ahead, physicians and safety experts with ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma want to make sure families know the risks associated with ATVs.
In 2011, the most recent year available in the report, of the nearly 60 deaths of children under 16, about half were younger than 12. Nearly 3,000 children have died in ATV accidents during the more than 30 years data has been collected. More than 40 percent of those who died were under 12.
Dr. Jason Lees, a trauma surgeon at OU Medical Center, said injuries from ATV accidents are common.
“Drivers of ATVs are much less protected than they are in cars,” he said. “These machines weigh a lot and travel at high speeds, so they can be very dangerous.”
By the numbers
Data in the report show injuries have decreased in recent years, but in 2011 there were nearly 110,000 ATV-related injuries treated in emergency rooms across the United States. Nearly 30 percent of those injured were younger than 16.
At The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, more than 30 children under 15 have been treated for ATV-related injuries since August 2011. Often, injuries take months or even years of recovery and rehabilitation. Some children never fully recover.
Dr. Justin Ramsey, a pediatric physiatrist at The Children's Center in Bethany, said young children are particularly at risk when driving ATVs because their decision-making and motor skills are still developing.
“The most significant injuries are the traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries,” he said. “They have a life-changing impact for the victim and their family when it comes to rehabilitation."
Kaden Hedges, 12, was injured in an ATV accident in north central Oklahoma in June 2012. After only minutes of joy riding on a relative's farm, he found himself pinned beneath the machine. Luckily, a cellphone was in the ATV and he was able to call for help.
“My husband scooped him up out of the field and took him in his truck to the ER,” said Kaden's mother, Sabrina Ward.
After a night of scans and tests, doctors eventually decided to send Kaden to The Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City. The accident had fractured the T9 vertebrae near the middle of his back.
Ward said she's thankful her son wasn't paralyzed. She's also changed her mind about the ATV — commonly used as a work vehicle across much of rural Oklahoma and the United States. She thinks young children must have appropriate safety training and supervision.
Kaden still has lingering effects from the accident — he can't play the close-contact sports he used to and he still has some pain. Doctors will remove a plate fusing his T8 to his T10 vertebrae in July.
Many ATV safety experts recommend anyone younger than 16 not ride adult-size ATVs. Additionally, they warn since the vehicles can easily roll or tip over, proper use and safety training is essential for all ages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends delaying ATV use until age 16.
Safety courses are offered at many OSU Extension offices as part of an initiative bringing together OU Medical Center, The Children's Center and the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service 4-H Youth Development.
For more information about ATV Ride Safe Oklahoma, or for family and safety tips, visit www.RideSafeOK.org.
Vallery Brown is a marketing coordinator for OU Medical Center.