They are stories of tragedy, these Mid-South news items chronicling heart-wrenching loss, the ever-so-grim facts that have left lifetime scars for mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends:
·“One child’s body recovered, another missing after ATV accident.”
·“Accident takes life of young ATV passenger.”
·“Child killed in ATV accident.”
·“Toddler killed in ATV accident.”
·“Man, boy killed in ATV crash.”
·“Funeral arrangements set for 10-year old ATV victim.”
These are, alas, just a sampling of ATV deaths in the Mid-South thus far in 2013. There are others. Too many others. And there will, alas, likely be more before this year comes to a close— more lives untimely ended, more families mourning.
For the years the Consumer Product Safety Commission has kept statistics on ATV-related fatalities, 1982 through 2011, there were 11,688 deaths in the U.S. That’s more than three times the number killed in the World Trade Center destruction on 9/11, the equivalent of 25 jumbo jet crashes in which everyone died.
Of that total, Tennessee ranked seventh with 358 deaths; Mississippi 12th with 280 deaths; Missouri 14th with 265 deaths; Arkansas 15th with 263 deaths; and Louisiana 18th with 214 deaths. California led the nation with 504 deaths.
Nationally, 2,865 fatalities (25 percent) involved children under the age of 16; of that number, 43 percent were children younger than 12.
In the latest year of CSPC statistics, there were 107,500 emergency room-treated ATV-related injuries, 52 percent of those for children under 12.
The good news is that ATV fatalities and injuries have been declining. Estimated ATV-related fatalities have declined each year from 2006 through 2011, according to the CSPC 2011 report, although data collection for 2008-2011 is ongoing. The estimated fatality risk per 10,000 four-wheel ATVs in use dropped from 1.1 in 2005 to 0.9 in 2007 (the latest year in which fatality data are complete).
Injuries have declined significantly over the past five years, showing "a change in trend direction.” For the first time, the agency noted, “The number of injuries per year has gone through a statistically significant decline in recent years (2007-2011),” and injuries involving children younger than 16 declined 27 percent during the period.
There are now 10.6 million four-wheel ATVs in use, more than tripling since 1998. Since 1984, the ATV Safety Institute notes, major manufacturers and distributors of ATVs in the U.S. have worked closely with the CSPC to implement ongoing safety initiatives, including rider education, parental supervision, and state legislation. In 2009, the industry's voluntary vehicle standard was made mandatory as a result of federal legislation that requires all ATV manufacturers and distributors, regardless of where the product is manufactured (imported or U.S.), to adhere to the same safety standards and training programs. Under the legislation, all ATV manufacturers now must certify that their products conform to the mandatory standards, and file safety action plans with the CPSC.
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Too many times, I’ve seen kids who couldn’t be more than eight years old zooming along on 4-wheelers, more often than not with no helmet (not that a helmet would make any more palatable an 8-year old driving an ATV alone and unsupervised). On city streets, I’ve shuddered at encounters with kids who couldn’t be more than 10 years old whizzing along on 4-wheelers, with three or more kids as passengers, none wearing helmets. One can only wonder that any parent would allow their children to be in a situation so fraught with potential injury … or death.
States are increasingly passing laws regarding ATVs on public streets and roadways (where some 50 percent of ATV fatalities occur). My state, Mississippi, is one of them. The state’s ATV death rate is 3.5 times greater than the national average, and for children under 16 it’s four times the national average. CSPC stats show an average of 18 ATV deaths annually in Mississippi.
Ironically, while Mississippi now has a law requiring helmets, certification courses for under-age operators, and a ban on driving on public roads, there are no specific fines or penalties, forcing law enforcement officials to write tickets for driving an unregistered vehicle and/or improper safety equipment.
The ATV Safety Institute urges all ATV enthusiasts and their families to follow its “Golden Rules” for operating their vehicles:
1.Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, and gloves.
2.Never ride on paved roads except to cross, when done safely and permitted by law — another vehicle could hit you. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.
3.Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
4.Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV, and no more than one passenger on an ATV specifically designed for two people.
5.Ride an ATV that's right for your age.
6.Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys.
7.Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
8.Take a hands-on ATV Rider Course and the free online E-Course. Visit atvsafety.org  or call 800-887-2887.