Despite consumer safety warnings, a new study shows that children under 16 continue to ride all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) –even after suffering serious injuries.

“Although ATVs have surged in popularity over the past several years, they pose significant dangers for children 16 and under who simply do not have the physical strength, cognitive skills, maturity or judgment to safely operate ATVs,” says Rebeccah Brown, MD, associate director of Trauma Services at Cincinnati Children’s and the study’s main author.  “These are hefty motorized vehicles that weigh up to 600 pounds and are capable of reaching speeds of up to 85 miles per hour.”

The study was presented Oct. 22 at the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics national convention in New Orleans.

From 1982 to 2010, more than 11,000 people died in ATV crashes, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Children under 16 accounted for one of every four deaths. Of the children who died, 43 percent were under age 12. In addition, more than 28,000 children received emergency care after being injured in ATV crashes.

Brown and colleagues studied five years’ worth of ATV-related admissions to Cincinnati Children’s Level 1 Trauma Center. Among the findings:

  • About 60 percent of children injured in an ATV crash continued to ride
  • Children sustained multiple, serious injuries, with 23 percent requiring intensive care and 48 percent requiring surgery.
  • Only 40 percent of children reported wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.  Of those who didn’t wear helmets, 67 percent sustained significant head and neck injuries.
  • More than 60 percent acknowledged the presence of a label on the ATV warning against operation by children 16 and under and against carrying passengers.
  • Not a single child injured underwent formal training for safe ATV operation.  Only five were offered free training by the ATV dealer.  All five declined.

“ATV manufacturer warning labels are largely ineffective, and ATV training is infrequently offered to most ATV users,” says Brown. “Mandatory safety courses and licensing, and enforceable helmet legislation, are needed to reduce ATV use by children.”