While riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) may seem like a fun activity for your child, too often it can end in a serious injury and a trip to the emergency room, say Radiological Society of North America researchers.
In fact, deaths and hospital visits related to ATV use have more than doubled in the past decade.
A new study reports that the most common injuries that youngsters sustain include serious injuries such as broken legs and arms, skull fractures, brain injuries, and hemorrhages.
"Parents need to understand that ATVs are not toys," says study lead author Dr. Chetan Shah, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "We tend to think short-term and believe that we're giving children a toy or some kind of entertainment with an ATV. But, remember, a trip to the ER is in no way recreational."
According to statistics from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, 467 persons died from ATV-related injuries in 2005. In 1995, that number was 200 persons.
In 2005, 136,700 Americans were treated in US emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries, up from just 52,200 in 1995.
Because injuries and deaths from ATV use are rising so dramatically, Dr. Shah and his colleagues wanted to learn exactly who is getting injured and what types of injuries are occurring from ATV use.
For the past 10 years, the researchers have collected data on any child treated for an ATV accident in their Arkansas hospital. In that time, they have treated 455 children, ranging in age from six months to 19 years old.
The average age of the ATV riders was just over 11. There were more injured boys (318) in the study than girls (137).
Six children died as a result of their injuries. Dr. Shah says it is important to note that this study only included persons who were brought to the emergency room.
The actual number of deaths may be higher because if a child died at the site of an ATV accident, he or she would not have been counted in this study. None of the children who died were wearing helmets.
Seventy-seven of the injured children had skull fractures, 62 had hemorrhages, and 53 had brain injuries. Twelve children had spine fractures, and three of those had spinal cord injuries. Thirty-two children had injuries to their lungs.
One hundred and fifty-nine children had fractures of their extremities, most often a leg bone. Eleven children had to undergo amputations as a result of their injuries.
Dr. Shah says the youngest patient was six months old and had been riding with his mother. The infant suffered a fractured thigh bone and, as a result of the injury, will walk with a permanent limp.
"I would like to ask that mother, when your child is older and can't participate in sports because of his limping, what will you say when your child asks, 'Why did you put me on that ATV?' Will she have an answer for that?" he wonders.
Dr. Shah says his study also includes two different two-year-old ATV drivers, who managed to start the devices and ride them without their parents' knowledge. One was found unconscious next to the ATV. She had a severe brain hemorrhage and is permanently disabled as a result of the accident.
"I think parents probably don't have a real picture of the consequences and the injuries these machines can cause," notes Dr. Shah.
Dr. Shah recommends that children not ride ATVs until they are at least 16, but adds that size is probably a more important determinant of who can probably control an ATV. He says he would like to see some sort of sensor built in to these machines so it would not start unless you were of a particular weight.
"Ideally, no child under the age of 16 should ever operate or ride on an ATV," says Dr. Barbara Gaines, at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. "They are simply not big enough to control the vehicle, and they don't yet have the cognitive skills to avoid crashes,
Beverly Losman, director of SafeKids Georgia and manager of child health promotion at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, says she believes that parents are not aware of the real risks inherent with ATV use.
"If you're going to have your child ride an ATV, we want you to know what to do and take steps to help prevent accidents and minimize the risks," she says.
She advises parents to make sure that children always wear a helmet, goggles, and other protective gear. They should wear long pants and boots, instead of shorts and sneakers.
ATVs were designed to be used by one rider at a time, and Losman says that is very important to stress to children, because accidents often happen when there is more than one rider. Another big risk comes from riding on paved roads.
Losman says ATVs should only be used on trails designed for their use. Additionally, Losman recommends that parents maintain these vehicles properly, ensuring that the tire pressure is correct and that the control cables and chain are adjusted properly.
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
From the rugged trails of West Virginia to the sand dunes in southern California, the sound of all-terrain vehicles in action can be heard across the country.
However, in many communities, news accounts of tragic incidents are being heard.
To reduce the number of deaths and injuries, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission is leading a major campaign to educate riders young and old on the safe use of ATVs.
The Commission says ATVs are not toys - they are powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles.
ATVs can travel at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour and can weigh in excess of 700 pounds.
ATVs can easily roll and tip over. Their unpredictable nature in off-road conditions makes training and proper use essential.
All riders should always wear a helmet when on an ATV.
About one-third of ATV-related deaths and injuries involve children. Anyone younger than 16 years of age should never be on an adult ATV.
Stay off paved roads and avoid unfamiliar terrain.
Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV.
Do not drive an ATV while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Like other activities involving high speeds and heavy machinery, riding an ATV can be risky.
To help stay safe, follow common sense safety tips.
Take knowledge to the extreme and learn more about these important tips for safer riding:
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
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