Ban children from adult-size ATVs

October 03, 2011

Thank you to The Sun's editorial board for highlighting the gaps in current Maryland laws regarding all-terrain vehicles ("The unregulated ATV," Sept. 26). Readers now know that Maryland doesn't require ATV drivers to pass a safety test, attend a safety course or possess a driver's license, and that there's no minimum age requirement or even a mandatory helmet law in our state.

What readers should also know is that many ATV crashes involving children occur when they are riding adult-sized ATVs. Today's ATVs commonly exceed 600 pounds in weight and can achieve speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Children lack the physical strength and motor skills, as well as the maturity and judgment, to manage these powerful machines.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently conducted undercover checks of ATV dealers and found 7 out of 10 were willing to sell an adult-sized ATV for use by a child. They concluded that the Consumer Product Safety Commission should strengthen efforts to prevent dealers from selling adult-sized ATVs for use by children.

Parents also play a critical role. Too many parents continue to allow children to ride adult-sized ATVs despite warning labels indicating the risk of serious injury and death to children less than 16 years of age.

In 2010, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to enact legislation banning children younger than 14 years from riding adult ATVs, thereby putting parents in the driver's seat when it comes to their child's safety.

It's time for Maryland to act. Perhaps the best solution is to ban the use of adult-sized ATVs by children younger than 16 years of age. Children would continue to ride youth-sized ATVs, and parents and dealers would get the message that no child should ever ride on an adult-sized ATV.

Dr. Stephen Bowman and Alicia Samuels, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, assistant professor and director of communications for the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore.

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