The long and eagerly awaited report on All Terrain Vehicles was released this week by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and those of us who campaign for stricter controls limiting young and inexperienced riders, it confirms what we have been saying.
That is, while overall death rates are declining from ATV crashes and incidents, the rate of young children being hurt or killed is on the rise.
According to the CPSC report, agency staff received reports of 327 ATV-related fatalities occurring in 2011, 590 occurring in 2010, 684 occurring in 2009, and 741 occurring in 2008. Reporting for the years 2008 through 2011 is ongoing; these numbers are expected to increase in future reports.
From 1982 through 2011, CPSC staff received reports of 2,865 ATV-related fatalities of children younger than 16 years of age. This represents 25 percent of the total number of reported ATV-related fatalities (11,688). Of the 2,865 ATV-related fatalities of children younger than 16 years of age in the last 30 years, 1,226 (43 percent) were younger than 12 years of age. As with any injury data report, fatalities only tell part of the story.
In 2011, there were an estimated 107,500 ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries in the United States. An estimated 29,000 (27 percent) of these were children younger than 16 years of age. Of the 107,500 estimated ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries for all ages in 2011, a majority are categorized as treated and released (87 percent).
The plurality of the 2011 estimated ATV-related, emergency department-treated injuries were diagnosed as contusions/abrasions or fractures (26 percent and 23 percent, respectively).
The majority of the 2011 estimated ATV-related, emergency-department treated injuries had injuries of the arm (the shoulder down) and the head or neck (29 and 28 percent, respectively).
So, as the overall ATV-related injury rate declines, the percentage of injuries to kids under 16 remains significant. This is in line with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics to keep kids under 16 off four-wheeled ATVs, and to have states enact laws that reflect this position.
In Massachusetts, where it is illegal for kids under age 14 to ride, the state’s Environmental Police and the Berkshire County District Attorney recently commenced enforcing Sean’s Law, the 2010 statute designed to protect children from injuries incurred through improper use of four wheeled all-terrain vehicles.
In early February, A 31-year-old Chicopee woman was brought up on criminal charges for allegedly allowing a 15-year-old relative from Springfield to drive an ATV , ending in a crash in which both were hurt, the teen severely. Kimberly A. Philpott of Bostwick Lane is scheduled to be arraigned on six charges on March 11 in Central Berkshire District Court. She is facing a maximum of 21/2 years in jail or a $5,000 fine, or both, if convicted.
According to a state Environmental Police probable cause report, on Nov. 18, 2012, while at a family get-together in Peru, Philpott took the teen for a ride on an adult-sized Can-Am Outlander ATV.
The girl had been told not to ride the vehicle by other family members, according to the report. While riding, Philpott’s glasses broke and she allowed the teen to drive. They crashed and the vehicle landed on top of them. Philpott was not wearing a helmet and the teen’s helmet flew off during the crash .
The pair was rushed to Berkshire Medical Center by County Ambulance. The teen was later airlifted to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield for a fractured skull, brain swelling, seven fractured ribs and collapsed lungs. She had to be put into an induced coma, according to the report. Philpott suffered a lacerated liver, a broken wrist and a severe cut to her calf.
Philpott allegedly told the police that “looking back” she should have left the vehicle and walked back with the girl. “I messed up,” she told an investigating officer. The case went forward after a show-cause hearing in February determined there was enough evidence to charge Philpott. The most serious charge Philpott is facing is negligent and reckless operation of an ATV causing serious injury, a misdemeanor.
The other charges include allowing a person under 18 to improperly operate an ATV and allowing a person under 18 to operate an ATV without a safety course, among others. Many of these charges are part of Sean’s Law, which strengthened existing statutes on ATV use in the state and went into effect on Oct. 1, 2010, becoming the toughest such law in the county. The law was named after 8-year-old Sean Kearney of the Manomet section of Plymouth, who was killed in 2006 after an ATV he was riding on with a school friend overturned on him. Among the law’s regulations are mandatory education and training classes for any rider 18 or younger. No child under 14 is allowed to ride an ATV.
The Safety Institute applauds the Environmental Police for its ongoing educational efforts, and looks forward to working with that agency on additional awareness campaigns for parents across the Commonwealth.
Last week, Plymouth’s local newspaper weighed in on the issue of ATV safety In an interview with Katie Kearney, Sean’s mother (and a member of TSI’s Survivors Network), the paper wrote, “Massachusetts OHV laws, Kearney said, are now the strictest in the country – on paper at least.” The last four words are the most important. Because if the authorities in Plymouth County, home of the ATV riders’ haven Myles Standish State Forest, fail to properly investigate crashes; or turn a blind eye to reports of ATV riders trespassing or ignoring the Commonwealth’s safety standards, Sean’s Law is just a scrap of paper.
Some activists noted that technology might hold the key to better enforcement of ATV laws. Sharl Heller, an environmentalist from Plymouth, recently spoke before the Friends of Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth to try and persuade that group to adopt a new online incident reporting system that has shown great promise in California. “We can’t go chasing people around the woods, but we can do a better job of tracking incidents so that it becomes simply a matter of identifying the hot spots,” Heller said. “I brought up the need for the town to help provide a place for kids to safely ride ATVs and dirt bikes.”
Here’s hoping that Plymouth officials take Heller’s words to heart, and that law enforcement around the state continues to make Sean’s Law a meaningful tribute to a lost child.