All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are as popular as ever, yet a new study from Nationwide Children's Hospital hopes to alert Americans about the dangers of ATVs — especially for children.
The study found that over the past 25 years, each day an average of 31 children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for ATV-related head and neck injuries. What's more, experts say and preliminary data show motor sports have become even more popular during the coronavirus epidemic.
“When you’re going 30 miles an hour and you hit a tree, you may not get a second chance. At that speed, with heavy machines like that, one mistake can be life-changing," Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio, and senior author of the study, said in a press release.
Kristen Almer knows this all too well: Her 11-year-old nephew died in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident in 2013. She's since started a program promoting power sports safety to kids and parents.
Logan Almer's story
On May 24, 2013, heading into Memorial Day weekend, Logan Almer, who lived with his father, mother and older brother in Minong, Wisconsin, got on his dad's ATV when no adults were around, Almer told TODAY. He wasn't wearing a helmet or other protective gear and drove the vehicle toward the road. When he reached the road, he sharply turned because he knew not to drive the vehicle on pavement, but in the process, the vehicle flipped twice, crushing and killing Logan, Almer recalled.
"We don't know all the details, but it's pretty obvious that when Logan got on that machine, he had no idea what he got his hands on," she said. "It was horrifying, graphic, brutal, unbelievable situation."
Almer added that Logan's parents "were very concerned about the safety of their sons" and that the ATV key was usually frozen in a block of ice. At the time of Logan's death, his older brother, Hunter, was doing his online certification on ATV safety. Almer, herself, has worked in the motor sports industry for decades, which made the loss that much harder.
"I couldn’t believe this happened to my family," she said.
ATV fatalities and injuries nationwide
Between 1982 and 2018, there were at least 15,744 ATV-related fatalities, per the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. Of these, 3,353 were in children younger than 16, about 1 in 5. According to 2018 data from nonprofit the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 80-90% of deaths, the victims weren't wearing helmets.
According to a Consumer Federation of America report from 2018, July is the month with the most fatalities due to off-highway vehicles (OHVs), and the date with the highest number of fatalities is July 4.
The CPSC numbers do not include deaths related to other off-road vehicles, such as utility-terrain vehicles (UTVs), Almer stressed.
"People don't realize the danger that's afoot," she said. "People will say, 'We're not really concerned. Our kids don't ride.' ... The fact of the matter is kids who don't ride, they're the ones who are unfamiliar, who we need to get the message to."
Dr. Bret Nicks, a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told TODAY he's seen a recent increase in injuries and fatalities related to ATVs as their popularity grows.
"The power behind them ... is markedly greater than it was a decade ago," he said. "People have to recognize that ATVs are not toys. They're fun, and yes, they have very small ones, but they're incredibly heavy, and they have lots of power."
The most common ATV injuries in kids, according to Nicks, are from falling off without wearing proper gear.
"They have on flip-flops and shorts, maybe a tank top or a T-shirt, so we see lots of contusions, injuries to the skin," he said.
Arm, leg and ankle fractures are also common, he added, and one of the most dangerous situations occurs when kids are ejected from the vehicle at a great distance.
"Then we have concerns for head injury, multi-system trauma inside their chest, inside their belly, organ injuries and those types of things," he said.
How to ride an ATV safely
With ATVs, "there are appropriate ways to go about having tremendous amounts of fun," Nicks said. But taking necessary precautions is crucial and possibly lifesaving. Per the ATV Safety Institute:
- Always wear a Department of Transportation-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.
- Never ride on paved roads, except to cross a road when it's safe and permitted by law.
- Never ride or get on a vehicle driven by someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV. For ATVs designed for two people, only two people should ride it.
- Ride an age-appropriate ATV.
- Supervise riders under 16 years old.
- Ride only on safe trails at a safe speed.
- Take a course on ATV safety and make your child do the same prior to riding.
Almer added that educating kids about the risks of power sports is one of the most effective ways to protect them.
"We don't throw our kids who don’t how to swim off a dock into 12-foot water. With power sports, it's the same thing," she said. "I don’t care whether you live in the city, you ride or you don’t ride — this is an issue that pertains to you."