New rules for young ATV riders may save lives

young girl riding ATVDespite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 16 not operate All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), many children are still riding them—and getting killed or seriously hurt. Between 1982 and 2006, more than 2,000 children were killed in ATV- and off-road motorcycle accidents. Now lawmakers in Massachusetts have the opportunity to regulate children’s ATV activity.

Senator Steven Baddour is proposing a bill that will prohibit ATV use for children under 14 (excluding a sanctioned race, rally or event). For children between 14 and 16, the new legislation would require adult supervision and an engine size of 90cc or less. Riders under 18 would have to complete a rider safety program.

Lois Lee, MD, director of Children’s Injury Prevention Program and David Mooney, MD, MPH, director of the Trauma Program, support this bill. “The majority of the time the children are poorly trained, poorly supervised, and not strong enough to control these machines,” Mooney says.

In the emergency department, Lee and Mooney have seen the devastating effects ATV accidents can have. Over the last five years, more than 75 children were admitted to Children’s with life-changing injuries caused by ATV accidents.

“Recently, we cared for an 8-year-old whose groin was impaled by the handlebar when the ATV he was riding ran into a parked car,” Lee says. “Another young boy ruptured his spleen when his ATV hit a tree trunk. Both children were injured while riding supervised by their fathers and wearing full protective gear.”

Even events such as organized races aren’t always safe. Two boys were brought to Children’s after crashing in two separate races. One was left paralyzed, while the other required emergency open heart surgery.

“On unpredictable terrain, children are at serious risk for injury,” says Lee. “Adolescents don’t have the training and knowledge to drive these vehicles, especially on rough terrain.”

Mooney agrees, and says that ATV and motorcycle riding should be limited to those allowed to drive cars. “I’m always a bit surprised that we don’t allow kids under 16 to drive well-protected in a car down a smooth roadway, but somehow think that kids as young as 4 can manage to ride vehicles that can go 30 to 50 MPH across a bumpy field.”