Deaths, Injuries Linked to ATVs on the Rise

More people than ever are being killed and injured on all-terrain vehicles as the number of riders increases, according to government statistics.

New estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that 621 people were killed in 2002, the most ever. Figures for 2003 are incomplete.

The report, posted last week on the agency’s Web site, also estimates that 125,500 people suffered injuries serious enough to send them to emergency rooms in 2003, a 10 percent jump from the previous year.

Safety groups seized on the data as evidence not enough is being done to promote ATV safety, particularly among children. About one-third of the dead and injured since 1982 have been children under 16.

“Young children don’t have the cognitive skills, size or strength to safely drive these vehicles,” said Dr. Jeffrey Upperman, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. His statement was issued by the Consumer Federation of America and other groups advocating tougher state and federal laws for young riders.

The CPSC estimated 6.2 million four-wheel ATVs were in use in 2003, twice as many as five years earlier. Three-wheel ATVs were outlawed in 1988 because of their propensity to tip over, though some remain in use. They accounted for less than 10 percent of injuries in 2003.

Tim Buche, president of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, an industry group, touted statistics showing the injury rate among riders of four-wheel ATVs dipped an estimated 6 percent from 2001 to 2003.

“The CPSC report confirms that the industry’s commitment to rider education, parental supervision and state legislation is working to bring down injury and fatality rates,” Buche said.

One industry effort includes funding educational programs that promote safety in areas where ATVs are popular.

ATVs are capable of reaching highway speeds. They are considered invaluable to occupations such as farming that require vehicles that maneuver over rocky terrain, but they also are popular among recreational riders who take them into woods and across trails. The vast majority of injuries occur among the latter group.

A patchwork of state regulations apply to ATVs. Some states have no restrictions while others mandate protective gear or prohibit children from riding vehicles meant for adults. Consumer and physician groups have asked the federal government to ban sales of adult-size ATVs intended for children under 16.

Their 2002 request is pending before the CPSC. Commission Chairman Hal Stratton said in an interview he expects a decision before spring but does not think it would mean fewer accidents.

Though some dealers are careful not to sell larger vehicles they suspect will be used by children, all parties in the ATV debate acknowledge the difficulty of federally regulating such sales.

Stratton said he doesn’t believe a government crackdown is the answer, noting that most accidents are due to improper behavior, such as riding on paved roads or not wearing protective gear, which states could regulate.

Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, called the rise in serious accidents “a public health crisis” that should compel government to do more.

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