I’ve written before about the use of ATVs in this province and the terrible attitudes many have about their use. Some users have their ATVs to facilitate hunting, getting firewood or working on their acreage. For those, the ATV is a seen as a tool. Unfortunately for many others it is a toy — a recreational vehicle for family enjoyment.
And they don’t see a problem with that. In fact, they vehemently defend their right to use it as such — to tear up our beaches, bogs and woods, pollute our air, and put themselves, others, and especially children at great risk on a motorized vehicle as dangerous as any car or truck.
In fact, they are more dangerous to our children than cars or trucks — where we have concentrated our legislation and resources on preventing injury. According to a study published in Injury Prevention Journal, almost two thirds of children “injured” in a motor vehicle accident require no medical treatment at all, whereas the risk to children involved in ATV accidents is 5.6 times higher (ATVs: motorized toys or vehicles for children, 2006)
ATVs are not recreational toys, like a bicycle. That same study found that although the number of injuries from bicycles are higher — merely because more children ride bicycles than ATVs — the risk of injury or death was much higher on ATVs. Given a single rider on an ATV versus a bike, a child is six times more likely to be injured on an ATV and 12 times more likely to be fatally injured.
The fact is, there is absolutely no reason for a child to be involved with an ATV in any way. Children under the age of 16 should not drive the vehicles, nor should they ride on them as a passenger. And the “youth sized” ones are even worse. Such machines, with their lower speeds and lighter weights, encourage youth participation in ATV use and make it appear harmless. Yet, according to the Canadian Pediatric Society, the risk to a child riding one of the smaller vehicles is still twice as high as an adult on a full size one.
I know such blanket statements about the use of ATVs in children have many hackles raised. People declare that their children are responsible, that they won’t get injured, that it is their right to pursue the recreational aspect of ATVing. Nobody wants to legislate away recreation, especially among such a vocal group. Unfortunately the social acceptance of ATVing is far higher than it should be given the damage they do to our environment and our citizens.
Much of that acceptance is also driven by the industry and its advertising efforts. The ATV industry has repeatedly protested any regulation that would require safer vehicle construction such as roll bars, lower speeds or legislation on usage.
Currently, safety standards are atrocious. Less than half of all youth riders consistently wear a helmet and less than one quarter have taken a safety course. And no child, no matter how big or responsible for his or her age, is physically and mentally capable of safely operating a machine designed for adults.
Parents insist that their child can handle the machine, that their child always wears a helmet; that their child took a safety course; that making it impossible for their child to ride because of other families not being careful is unfair.
I don’t like legislation and government involvement in our lives any more than anyone else. But resisting legislation against ATV use in children, to me, is comparable to resisting legislation around illegal drugs, alcohol and motor vehicles.
When we put the “rights” of a privileged few over the right to protection for our children, we prioritise recreation over life. And that’s just plain ridiculous.
An average of 72 Canadian children are killed using ATVs each year. And that number has been consistently rising for the past decade. ATV-related deaths account for about 10 per cent of all accidental injury related deaths in children, 19 and under, each year.
About 500 children under the age of 15 are admitted to hospital for ATV related injuries each year. In the 15-19 age range the number is approximately the same. That’s 1,000 children or teens injured badly enough to end up in hospital each year.
By comparison, fewer children die from accidental or self-inflicted gun injuries each year.
But we’ve never had a problem legislating the proper and safe use of guns. In fact, as a country, we’re proud of our low gun death and injury rates and tend to scoff at other countries without such strict gun regulation. It’s time we did the same with ATVs.
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