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ATV Accidents On The Rise

April 2010

Three recent studies indicate that ATV (all-terrain vehicle) riding is associated with a high risk of serious injuries among children. These serious injuries from ATV accidents include amputations, spinal cord injuries, and even death.

The results of these studies were reported at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in March 2010.

Dr. Mike Gittelman, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital's division of emergency medicine says that "ATV injuries have been significant, [and] we've been noticing increases [in frequency] for a while."

According to Gittelman, between 2000 and 2005 the rate of ATV-related fatalities increased by 60 percent, while non-fatal injuries increased by 48 percent.

ATV-related injuries

ATV accidents often cause serious injuries, including spinal cord injury, which can result in permanent paralysis and amputations.

"A spine injury is such a devastating injury for a young person," noted Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer, an assistant professor of orthopedics with the University of Tennessee's Campbell Clinic. Sawyer is also a co-author of both the recent studies.

Amputations are also devastating and, in ATV accidents often involve the legs, toes and fingers.

Illegal ATVs Due to Safety Concerns

While some still exist, all 3-wheeled ATVs have been banned due to serious safety concerns. However, 4-wheeled multi-rider ATVs are rapidly gaining popularity. Researchers claim these ATVs are not any safer than those that have been banned.

The ATV accident studies

In the first ATV injury study, researchers evaluated emergency room records for all patients admitted to a California trauma center due to injuries associated with an ATV accident between 2005 and 2007. This study included the records of 110 patients.

This research revealed that people involved in a multi-rider ATV accident were over ten times more likely to require amputation compared to those in a conventional single-rider ATV accident.

One of the study's authors, Dr. Gregg Wendell Schellack, an orthopedic surgery resident at Loma Linda University Medical Center, who races motocross and dirt bikes, said, "it's night and day. If you get injured on one of these it's going to be bad."

The second ATV accident study found that nearly 4,500 children in the US were injured in an ATV accident in 2006. Over seven percent of these children sustained spinal cord injury, a very serious injury that can result in permanent disability or even death. This percentage represents a 140 percent increase in the overall number of children injured in ATV accidents since 1997. It also represents a 467 percent increase in spinal cord injuries.

Furthermore, this second ATV accident study found that 70 percent of these spinal injuries occurred in children under 16 years of age. Spinal injuries were more common in older girls.

The third ATV accident study found a high risk of serious injuries among children who participate in motocross, a sport involving off-road, two-wheeled motorcycles such as dirt bikes.

Fifty percent of the children who sought treatment for these injuries at a single trauma center were hospitalized and approximately 30 percent required surgery. Many of these victims had been wearing helmets and other protective gear.

A number of factors could contribute to this significant rise in ATV-related injuries, such as the increased number of ATVs in use, the increased power and size of newer ATVs and ATV high rollover risk.

Gittelman claims that children should not be riding these vehicles: "They don't possess the maturity or ability to operate these vehicles. If you're not going to let a kid drive [a car], why would you let them drive a vehicle that's just as powerful?"

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