First off, let me give the Consumer Product Safety Commission full kudos for hosting a two-day summit at their Bethesda, MD headquarters devoted to all terrain vehicle safety. The very staging of this conference demonstrates that CPSC fully understands that there are an alarmingly high number of fatal and near-fatal injuries resulting from four-wheel ATV crashes in America, something that cannot be explained away by merely citing operator error.
Sadly, there remain many deniers in the ATV community—not just recreational riders but also those who make, sell and promote ATV riding as a “fun family sport”—who echo the auto industry execs of the Mad Men era by insisting that all terrain vehicle injuries are the fault of “the nut at the controls.” They maintain the mantra that “proper education, training and supervision” will keep people safe on these machines, and if someone gets hurt, well, they obviously were doing something wrong.
Now, as far as that goes, I tend to believe that for adults, the right to make informed choices is protected under the Constitution. But I part company with the nice folks I met in Bethesda who believe that it is perfectly safe for children as young as age six to ride ATVs, as long as the machines are the “proper size” for said child.
My presentation at the summit dealt mainly with the Massachusetts law enacted in 2010, which specifically bans children under age 14 from riding ATVs, even “child-sized” ones. Since this law was passed, Massachusetts has seen a 30 percent drop in ATV-related injuries among children ages 10-14. Just as promising, traumatic brain injuries in all age groups resulting from ATV crashes have declined by 21 percent. These are the kinds of numbers that get the attention of health care cost-containment policy types, because they translate into a significant savings in rehabilitation and care over the course of a lifetime.
And while more study is needed to determine the direct connection between child ATV prohibitions and injury rates, TSI was proud to present this data as evidence that perhaps kids 6-13 may not be suited for riding ATVs after all.
The CPSC presentation also served as the premiere for TSI’s new ATV Safety PSA, which you can view here:
Obviously, not every state is Massachusetts. As one of my fellow safety advocates said after my presentation, “we need to take what we can get” when it comes to regulating these machines. And perhaps, the “Golden Rules” of riding that the industry points to as evidence of its seriousness in reducing injuries is part of the answer. Certainly, there is common ground in recommending helmet use, safety goggles, sobriety, and other protections for riders. We urge the CPSC, at a minimum, to implement these ideas.
But in the face of our new Massachusetts ATV injury data, it is incumbent on those who make a living from marketing these machines to children to make sure that four wheelers are indeed safe at any speed for little ones, so that they may someday grow up to be responsible ATV riders and consumers.
Of course, this would be too late to protect the three children in America who, according to Concerned Families for ATV Safety, died in ATV crashes during the five days immediately following the CPSC summit. But it would be a start.