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Last Modified: December 29, 2022

Are All-Terrain Vehicles Safe?

Published on October 14, 2013 • Last updated December 29, 2022 by Ken Christensen
Topics: ATV Accidents

Terrain Vehicles

ATVsThe recent news involving teenagers sustaining serious head injuries due to ATV accidents brings to mind the safety issues of these powerful machines.

The accident involved three teenagers on a Rhino type ATV. The driver of the ATV apparently lost control of the vehicle and it ended up on its side. A 17-year-old girl was reported to be in critical condition.  The other two teenagers sustained minor injuries but were not hospitalized. This reported accident was the second incident that happened in Hobble Creek Canyon in Utah County in two days. The first reported ATV accident was further down the canyon and it involved two teens in critical condition with the girl also sustaining serious head injury.

Consumer Product Safety Commission published the 2010 Annual Report on ATV-related Death and Injuries dated December 2011. The report contains the following statistics:

ATV-related Fatalities

• As of December 31, 2010, CSPC staff received reports of 11,001 ATV-related fatalities occurring between 1982 and 2010. CPSC staff has received reports of 317 ATV-related fatalities occurring in 2010, 649 occurring in 2009, 707 occurring in 2008, and 804 occurring in 2007. Reporting for the years 2007 through 2010 is on-going; these numbers are expected to increase in future reports.

• From 1982 through 2010, CPSC staff received reports of 2,775 ATV-related fatalities that were children younger than 16 years of age. This represents 25 percent of the total number of reported ATV-related fatalities (11,001).

• Of the 2,775 ATV-related fatalities of children younger than 16 years of age, 1,184 (43 percent) were younger than 12 years of age.

• In 2006, the most recent year where the reporting is considered complete, 142 (17 percent) of the reported 833 ATV-related fatalities were children younger than 16 years of age.

• The estimated number of ATV-related fatalities is 781 for 2009, 833 for 2008, and 893 for 2007.  Reporting for 2007 through 2009 is on-going; thus, these numbers are expected to change in future reports.

• In 2006, the most recent year where reporting is considered complete, the estimated number of ATV-related fatalities is 903. The estimated number of 4-wheel ATV-related fatalities in 2006 is 876. The corresponding estimated risk of death per 10,000 4-wheel ATVs in use is 1.0 for the year 2006, decreasing from 1.1 in 2005.

ATV-related Emergency Department-Treated Injury Estimates

• In 2010, there was an estimated 115,000 ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries in the United States. An estimated 28,300 (25 percent) of these were children younger than 16 years of age.

• The decrease in the estimated number of ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries from 2009 to 2010 (131,900 in 2009 to 115,000 in 2010) is a statistically significant decrease.

• The increasing trend in the number of ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries from2001 to 2010 is statistically significant.

• From 2009 to 2010, the 12.7 percent decrease in the estimated number of ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries for children younger than 16 years of age (32,400 in 2009 to 28,300 in 2010) is not statistically significant.

• No trend is detected in the estimated number of ATV-related emergency department-treated injuries for children younger than 16 years of age from 2001 to 2010.

• Children younger than 12 years of age represent 14,100 of the ATV-related emergency department treated injuries in 2010, which constitutes 12 percent of the total number of estimated injuries.

What could be the reasons for these statistics? In a news article dated July 2010, University of Utah through its Department of Neurosurgery talked about its research report to be published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. The report highlights the need for improved ATV stability, increased helmet use and greater efforts to train riders on safe ATV operation.  This comes after the findings on the dramatic increase in severe trauma to the head and spine as a result of ATV accidents. The report also disclosed that estimated national costs of ATV-associated injuries were $3.24 billion annually.

The most affected age group are children and teenagers under 20 years of age, according to University of Utah researchers. This age group made up 42 percent of the head and spine traumas in the study.

The Utah research shows there was an increased risk of ATV-related neurological injury among those not wearing helmets.

Dr. Joel MacDonald, neurosurgeon at the University of Utah provided the following vital information on the increased risk for children associated with ATV use:

  1. ATVs are unstable by design, with short wheelbases, a high ground clearance and a high center of gravity
  2. The majority of children involved in ATV accidents are riding adult-sized vehicles. Children are at increased risk because of their underdeveloped motor coordination and physical strength, less experience in operating motor vehicles, poorer judgment, their risk-taking behavior and lack of instruction.
  3. Rollovers were the most common documented accident involving ATVs in the Utah study, followed by collisions with stationary objects or other vehicles. Children may be at higher risk for rollover-type crashes because they have less weight and strength to forcefully lean the vehicle into a turn, especially when operating an adult-sized vehicle.

It was also reported that for 2006, there were about 88,553 registered ATVs. Surprisingly, ATVs that are commonly used for farm and work related activities do not result to severe injuries.

Union of Concerned Scientist on the other hand, urges the Consumer Product Safety Commission to disclose the dangers associated with ATV used. Concerned groups and research initiatives somehow produced good results from their combined efforts. It was reported that by a virtue of a Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSIA) three-wheel ATV were banned by 2008. Additional reforms include having major manufacturers in the ATV industry agreeing to limit the engine size of the vehicle and to produce devices that would slow the speed down for ATV intended for children under 16. Training programs for ATV drivers/users were also put in place by this act.

ATV industry claims the fault is not in the design of the machine but the misuse committed by people. Hence, they issued the golden rule in ATV use. These are:

  • Always wear a helmet
  • Never ride on a public road
  • Never ride with a passenger
  • One size ATV does not fit all

Clearly this golden rule has been violated many times before. The use of helmet has been considered of primary importance, yet people think that they are invincible and that they are good enough to avoid accidents. This is not always the case. Accidents do happen even to the most experienced driver. It is best to entertain the possibility of harm whenever you get into a motor vehicle or on a bike. Prevent this by making your teenager wear a helmet during an ATV ride. Be aware of your teen’s plan to ride especially if he or she is going to ride with friends.

Teenagers who are involved in ATV accidents often ride with someone. When the rule says to ride alone to avoid distraction and playing around. Teenagers still opted to disobey this restriction for the sake of fun and entertainment. A person suffering from traumatic brain injury or spine injury may face a bleak future. This includes limited mobility, loss of memory, loss of functions, paralysis and others. Although resources are now made available for people who are suffering from traumatic brain injury or spine injury, why gamble and see if you can come out on top? Obey the safety rules and save your future.

Parents should also take the responsibility of educating their children about ATVs. They should never be allowed to use ATVs intended for adults. They should be properly trained in its operation and should wear the proper gear.

USA Today also reported that as of 2011, there is a violation on the sale of ATVs. CPSC has a standing agreement with distributors regarding the sale and distribution of ATVs. ATV dealers are prohibited from selling adult ATV to families purchasing them for children. The average rate of violations of this ban was down from 35% in 2002 to 2007 to 31% in fiscal year 2011.

The message here is on adults or parents who chose to ignore this vital agreement. Remember one size does not fit all. Do not be misled into believing you are saving precious dollars by buying an adult ATV for your child. You are exposing your child to greater danger and yourself greater economic liability. Protect your child by adhering to government regulations and safety measures.

Photo copyright to Police and Border Guard Board

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