All-terrain vehicles, and in particular snowmobiles, are part of daily life for many, whether for recreation or an occupation. Safe Kids of Otsego Country recommends that children younger than 16 should never ride on, or operate, ATVs of any kind or any size _ including youth-sized ATVs.
"ATVs are inherently difficult to operate, and children do not have the cognitive and physical abilities to drive or ride these vehicles safely," said Rich McCaffery, a community educator with Bassett Healthcare Network and Safe Kids Safe Kids of Otsego County. "If you're not old enough to drive a car with safety belts on a paved road with traffic control devices, you're certainly not old enough to drive a powerful open-seat vehicle at speeds up to 70 miles per hour over rough terrain."
Recently news reports have indicated several injuries and even deaths from snowmobile riding.
Nationwide, about 130 children younger than 16 die each year as a result of ATV-related injuries, and an estimated 40,000 children younger than 16 are seriously injured each year in ATV-related incidents.
While a helmet can reduce the risk of severe head injuries, there are no safety devices that adequately protect against other injuries commonly sustained while riding ATVs.
The number of ATV-related injuries per year more than doubled between 1993 and 2006. In 2007, children accounted for one out of four ATV-related injuries.
Beginning in 1998, the ATV industry observed voluntary guidelines restricting the sale of adult-sized ATVs (with engines bigger than 90 cc) for use by children younger than 16, but compliance testing from the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed numerous instances of noncompliance with the voluntary standard.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, signed into law in 2008, made the voluntary standard mandatory as of April 2009. The law prohibits companies from recommending, marketing or selling new adult-sized ATVs for use by those younger than 16.
The law uses maximum speed, rather than engine size, for determining the age-appropriateness of ATVs and requires that new ATVs include labels and hangtags with certain safety information, including age recommendations. However, the law still permits the manufacture of youth-sized ATVs, which pose inherent safety risks.
"Previous efforts to make ATVs safer for kids have proved inadequate and have not kept children out of the emergency room," McCaffery said. "Children can be seriously injured even on ATVs manufactured and marketed for kids."
Rollovers, collisions and ejections involving ATVs can cause instantly fatal head injuries as well as serious nonfatal injuries to the head, spinal cord and abdomen. A child riding an ATV is four times more likely to be seriously injured than a rider older than 16.
"We know it's not the advice some parents may want to hear, especially if ATVs are commonly used by friends and family, but it's the conclusion we've drawn from extensive and ongoing review of the data," McCaffery said. "If you follow the opinion of safety experts, there is simply no way to make ATV riding a safe activity for children."
For more information about ATVs and receive a copy of Safe Kids' ATV & Snowmobile Safety and Regulations booklet, and other outdoor recreation safety, contact McCaffery at 547-5256 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Coleen Vesely at 547-4812 or email@example.com. Also visit www.usa.safekids.org. and the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website at http://www.nysparks.state.ny.us/recreation/snowmobiles/safety-courses.aspx or call (518) 474-0446.