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By Linda Carroll

Carolyn Anderson never knew her son was riding an ATV,  until the call came to tell her that 14-year-old James had been in an accident and was being rushed to the hospital.

“I screamed,” Anderson told TODAY.  “It was like this primal scream.  I intuitively just knew..."

James died before Anderson and her husband could get to the hospital.

The Andersons learned later that James had been riding an all-terrain vehicle on vacation with a friend’s family in New Hampshire and that he’d lost control of 700-pound vehicle and crashed into a tree.

James Anderson is hardly alone.

In April, Jeremy Bryant, a 10th grader from Utah, died after breaking his neck in an ATV accident. And in 2010 at least 55 children under age 16 were killed in ATV accidents, while more than 28,000 others were seriously injured.

June and July are the peak months for ATV injuries and deaths, experts say.

ATV’s have become such a menace to children that the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned: “Simply put, ATVs are dangerous to children, [because they] are not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines.”

It’s not just kids at risk.

On Tuesday, a 20-year-old Washington State man was found injured underneath his overturned ATV, KOMO News reported.

The man had gone out for a ride and when he didn’t come home, his family called the police. When the search party found him, he’d been trapped face-down under his ATV for 11 hours. The man had apparently been riding up a steep hill when his ATV tipped over.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned Americans that the vehicles are dangerous.

“ATVs are the fifth deadliest product that we oversee,” Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the CPSC,  told TODAY. “Every year 700 people die and 136,000 go to the emergency room because of ATV related injuries.”

Some say it’s not the vehicles that are to blame, but the way people use them. There are numerous videos on YouTube to showing crazy behavior on ATVs.

For its part, the ATV industry has mounted a campaign to improve the image of the recreational vehicles by emphasizing safe riding.

They list the “golden rules” of ATV riding, which include: 

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

Safety instructors underscore that last rule. ATVs are color coded to make it easier to know which is the right one for each age group.

For example, yellow is not supposed to be ridden by anyone under the age of 14, while blue ones aren’t supposed to be ridden by anyone under age 16.

“They need to be on one that’s designed for their abilities, both engine size, speed size, and the size of the ATV,” said Amber Purcell, ATV Safety Institute Instructor.

Despite the scary statistics, ATVs have never been more popular, with 11 million now in use compared to 4 million in 2000, according to TODAY's Tom Costello.

Suzanne Stopowski sees them as a family affair.

“My husband’s had a four wheeler for two years,” Stopowski told TODAY. “My son’s had one. He’s 7 and he rides now.”

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