All-terrain safety

August 02, 2004

ON A FIELD in Western Maryland, three boys were badly injured last month when their all-terrain vehicles collided head-on. Zachary Beard, 11, of Boonsboro, who was driving one of the ATVs, was declared dead shortly afterward. Cody Pollard, 8, of Woodbridge, Va., a passenger on the other, died in a Washington, D.C., hospital one week later. Only the third victim, also 8 years old, survived.

It was senseless, but also notable for this reason: In Maryland, it's perfectly legal for children this young to drive an off-road ATV. This state has no age restriction on their use even though the four-wheel motorcycle-like vehicles can travel at speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour - and are far more dangerous than cars.

That's appalling. Even officials within the $3 billion ATV industry recommend some age limits on ATV use, at least for the adult-size machines like the ones used by the children in Boonsboro. In recent years, the number of serious injuries caused by ATVs has risen sharply - from 54,700 in 1997 to 111,700 in 2001, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2002, at least 44 children ages 14 and under died as a result of ATV-related injuries. More than 30,000 youngsters were treated in hospital emergency rooms the same year.

But Maryland is not alone. Nearly half of all states set no minimum age for ATV use, and nearly as many don't require protective headgear. Maryland mandates bike helmets but not helmets for ATV riders. Federal oversight, chiefly from the CPSC, is also light - the industry operates under voluntary safety restrictions. The vehicles come with warnings - to wear pads and helmets, not ride with passengers, let children drive only smaller, lighter ATVs, and insist on parental supervision.

That's not good enough, particularly with the rise in ATV sales - to an estimated 825,000 each year. Safety advocates such as the Consumer Federation of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics have called on the CPSC to ban the sale of larger ATVs for use by children under age 16, but the commission has so far resisted. That's wrong. Young, inexperienced drivers are the most likely age group to be hurt in ATV accidents.

All-terrain vehicles may be fun to ride, but they are not toys, they are motor vehicles. They may weigh as much as 600 pounds, so when they tip over, the consequences for a child can be deadly. Young children shouldn't be allowed to drive such behemoths. It's time state and federal law set a more responsible standard.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.