Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mississippi Needs Tougher ATV Safety Laws

By Dr. Shannon Smith

Mississippi’s pediatricians have long been sounding the alarm about the dangers associated with children riding ATVs.

There were 205 deaths in Mississippi from 1999 to 2008 as a result of ATV crashes, and 43 percent of those deaths were children and youths under age 22. Pediatricians, especially trauma specialists at UMMC Batson Children’s Hospital, see too many young lives cut short or forever handicapped by ATV crashes.

The state is currently considering proposals that would make helmet use mandatory for children under age 16, and would require a driver’s license or completion of a 4-H or similar ATV safety course to ride an ATV. It’s a simple first step, but more must be done.

To further reduce ATV injuries and deaths, the state should also consider a mandatory helmet law for all riders and increased public education on ATV safety. Mississippi also should ban ATV use on public roads and prohibit additional passengers on ATVs not designed for multiple passengers.

Protecting children should remain a top priority, which is why we also should look for ways to keep children off ATVs that are too big, too fast and too powerful.

ATV safety proposals have the support of many medical, safety and youth groups such as the state’s Trauma System, Child Death Review Panel, the state Brain Injury Association, the Department of Health and 4-H.

During a legislative hearing on ATV safety this fall, Dr. John Porter of the UMMC Trauma Center said UMMC sees two or three ATV crash victims every week. For every patient who dies, Porter said, three or four are injured critically and about 25 percent have debilitating head injuries. Many ATV crash victims die at the scene.

Of 64 ATV crash victims seen at the UMC Trauma Center in the first nine months of 2009, all were under age 16. There have been 380 ATV crash victims seen at UMC since January 2004, and only 9 percent were wearing helmets.

At the same hearing, Batson Hospital Pediatric Intensivist Dr. Rick Boyte reported that children are five times more likely than adults to be seriously injured in ATV crashes. A child under age 16 is twice as likely to be injured in an ATV crash as an adult. Boyte told legislators that 85 percent of the time, injured children have been riding adult-sized ATVs.

Department of Health data from 1999 to 2008 show that the number of ATV deaths is steadily increasing. Four of five victims were male, 79 percent white, and four of five were not wearing a helmet. Fifty-eight deaths were children, including an 8-year-old boy whose ATV rolled over and crushed him. Mississippi death rates from ATV crashes for children under 16 are increasing at twice the rate of all ATV deaths. To those who wonder whether bicycles are more dangerous than ATVs, the DOH reports about 10 deaths from bike accidents each year compared to 20 or more caused by ATV crashes.

ATVs are not toys and should not be treated as such. The time is now for Mississippi to toughen up its ATV safety laws for the protection of all riders.
Smith is a practicing pediatric rehabilitation physician and a member of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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