ATVs dangerous for children, University of Alberta researchers warn

Health researchers at the University of Alberta are urging parents to keep their young children off of all-terrain vehicles.

  • Sep. 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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Health researchers at the University of Alberta are urging parents to keep their young children off of all-terrain vehicles.

The recreation vehicles, known as ATVs, are too heavy for children under the age of 16 to either drive or ride on as passengers, say experts. In addition, U of A researchers Kathy Belton and Leah Phillips say there has been an increase in Alberta’s overall death rates, which should have all users thinking about safety before they climb aboard.

Using figures obtained from Alberta Health and Wellness and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner from 2002–2006, the two graduate students are conducting research on the dangers ATV use poses to Albertans, including youth, as part of their PhD studies at the U of A School of Public Health. To date, they have discovered an 83 per cent increase in ATV-related deaths from 2005 to 2006 and that, between 2002 and 2006, 10 children under the age of 16 were killed in ATV-related incidents. Another seven youths from 16–19 died. In the 16–19 age group, none of the victims wore a helmet, and in the under 16 category, only 20 per cent used one.

Parents need to be aware of the hazards ATVs can pose to children, says Phillips. The machines range in weight from 70 to 270 kilograms and are up to five times heavier than a child. “Children lack the strength, the skill, the maturity and the cognitive and motor skills needed to safely operate an ATV,” she said.

The researchers also found that many of the deaths involved a lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment. Sixty-six per cent of the total number killed were not wearing helmets, and another three per cent were wearing them improperly. Fifty-eight per cent of the victims who were tested came up positive for alcohol use. Within that group, 72 per cent of the males and all of the females were over the legal impairment limit. In total, 64 people were killed in rollovers— 45 per cent of all deaths reviewed— or by collisions with another vehicle, by being thrown from the vehicle, or by striking objects such as fences. In addition, 5,500 visits were made to emergency rooms as a result of ATV-related injuries.

The Peace River region of Alberta also accounted for a particularly high rate of visits to hospitals for ATV-related injuries, with 560 visits per 100,000 people, double the overall rural rate. Though it is unclear why the rate is higher, the researchers theorize that northern Alberta’s rougher terrain results in more accidents.

The figures show a need specifically to target males aged 15–34, the rural population, and to focus particularly on education about helmet and alcohol use. “Overall, there needs to be a stronger message sent out for all ages about safe use of these vehicles,” said Belton, Associate Director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.

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