As I was driving along recently on a state highway, what should come barreling along in the other lane but a shirtless teenager — looked 15 or so — on a 4-wheeler.
He apparently had the thing wide open, zooming along in fairly dense traffic. He wore a big grin, but no helmet, and only flip-flops on his feet. In a collision or a rollover at that speed, he would’ve been toast.
A few days later, bouncing along the edge of a highway was a father on a 4-wheeler, holding a baby that looked to be maybe 9 months old in one arm and a toddler that was perhaps 2 years old in the other — all the while steering with the arm that was holding the baby. The mind boggles at the thought processes behind that little adventure, and the potential for disaster.
It’s commonplace to see, in farm fields, on highway shoulders, and even on city streets, ATVs being operated by kids sub-10 years old, almost uniformly with no helmets or any visible parental supervision, and often as not with two, three, or more kids riding with them.
It’s a rare month that one doesn’t see or hear a news report of ATV-related deaths in the Mid-South. All too often the victims are children.
National Farm Safety Week is observed each September. For many years it has turned the spotlight on the dangers inherent in farming — tractor rollovers, equipment that can take off an arm and a leg, or kill, grain bin suffocations, etc.
This year’s focus was on ATV safety, with the theme, “Work Smart, Ride Safe.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 410 people died in ATV accidents in 2008 and another 135,100 were injured. Each year, some 40,000 children are treated in emergency rooms for ATV-related injuries, many of them life-altering.
The 2008 stats were an improvement over 2007, which had 699 reported ATV deaths, with 150,900 emergency room-treated injuries.
From 1982 to 2008, Mississippi had 290 ATV-related deaths; Arkansas 252; Louisiana 212; Tennessee 376; and Missouri 282. In each instance, a significant proportion of the deaths involved children under age 16.
While it is hoped the drop in deaths from 2007 to 2008 is at least in part a result of the increased emphasis on safety, both by ATV manufacturers and agencies such as the CPSC, the death/injury toll could be reduced even more by common sense observance of safety measures suggested by the organization.
They are: 1. Children and young people under age 16 should not ride adult ATVs. 2. All ATV users should take a hands-on training course. 3. Always wear a helmet and safety gear, such as boots and gloves. 4. Never drive an ATV on paved roads. 5. Never drive a youth or single-rider ATV with a passenger and never ride on these vehicles as a passenger.