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ATV injuries accelerate

What weighs up to 800 pounds, travels up to 75 mph, and doesn’t require a license?

Could be your family’s new ATV. If your kids are asking to drive it or to ride along, consider a New Year’s safety resolution.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, kids under age 16 account for 28% of ATV-related deaths. About 40,000 children under 16 land in hospital emergency rooms annually because of an ATV injury.

Charles Jennissen, director for pediatric emergency medicine at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, is on the front lines.“ATV injuries to kids have tripled in the past decade,” he says. “A big problem is that children are riding ATVs that aren’t designed for them. Our study showed that all of the children admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals with injuries from 2002 to 2009 had been on an adult-size machine."

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend kids under 16 ride ATVs. Manufacturer guidelines for engine size are 90 cc or greater for ages 16 and older; 70 to 90 cc for ages 12 to 15; and less than 70 cc for ages 6 to 11.

After a crash that killed an 8-year-old, Massachusetts banned children under 14 from operating an ATV. In Oregon, Concerned Families for ATV Safety was formed in 2002 by Sue Rabe, after her 10-year-old, 80-pound son died when a 500-pound ATV rolled over and suffocated him.

Even if youth meet age and size criteria, training is needed. “There’s a lot of potential for serious injury,” Jennissen says. “Most children receive little or no ATV instruction.”Jennissen grew up on a Minnesota farm. He learned ATV dangers early on when his cousin was killed while operating an ATV.

He’s part of an ATV safety task force that has obtained grants from the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and through Kohl’s Cares for Kids program. The grants have funded an outreach to 2,200 students, ages 12 to 15, in 13 eastern Iowa schools. “We teach kids how to say no to invitations to ride as a passenger or to drive ATVs too large for them,” he says. “We want them to think about what to say before they’re in that situation.”

Displays at schools and county fairs feature an ATV tilt table that simulates an overturn. ATV task force members show a PowerPoint presentation with before-and-after photos of facial stitches, as well as a high school athlete paralyzed in an ATV incident.

According to school surveys, 80% of kids ages 11 to 16 have ridden an ATV. Over one half who have been on an ATV have been involved in a crash.It’s also illegal to carry a passenger. “The seat is long because it’s designed to allow the operator to shift weight and to maintain center of gravity,” Jennissen says. “It’s not for passengers. Sudden acceleration, slopes, and turns can result in rollovers or the passenger being ejected, causing head injuries.”

Photo: Students attend the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety’s ATV training.

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