Should Kids Be Driving ATV’s? Doctors Call for Ban

by John McKiggan

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are four-wheeled motorized rugged vehicles usually operated off-road. They are particularly popular in rural communities and are frequently operated by children of all ages. They are popular recreational vehicles throughout Canada. But a local physician is hoping to change that.

Hundreds of Children Injured Every Year

The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) recently called for a ban on children driving ATVs. Dr. Natalie Yanchar, a surgeon at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says she has seen too many broken bones and deaths from ATV accidents. A study authored by Dr. Yanchar reported that an average of 450 children under the age of 15 are hospitalized every year from injuries caused by ATV.

Dr. Yanchar has been is a child safety advocate and she has published previous studies on the dangers of ATV’s: Child ATV Injuries in N.S. Down (or Maybe Not)

Children Can’t Control Adult ATV’s

The study suggests that children under the age of 16 do not have the necessary knowledge or physical strength to operate adult sized machines:

“Inexperience, inadequate physical size and strength, immature motor and cognitive development, and tending to engage in risk-taking behaviours all compound injury risks for children and youth operating ATVs.”

Smaller Isn’t Safer

It isn’t surprising that children are getting injured when riding adult sized ATV’s. But there are smaller models manufactured specifically for children and youth. I was surprised to learn that there is little convincing evidence to indicate that the smaller vehicles are safer.

According to the author, the smaller ATV’s are still heavy and can travel at significant speeds. Smaller ATV’s have a higher centre of gravity. This makes them more unstable contributing to rollovers.

The most striking statistics was that the risk of injury for a child riding a youth-model ATV is double the risk for an adult on a larger machine and five times higher than the risk to an adult on a machine of the same size
Safety Rules

Currently there is no uniform legislation governing ATV use across the country. Nova Scotia has had legislation in place since 2005 that permits children under the age of 14 (but over the age of 6) to operate ATVs. But there are several limitations:

Children can only ride on closed courses;

They must be supervised by an adult;

The child must complete an approved safety training course;

They must wear protective equipment;

They may only ride an ATV that is appropriate for their age, size and capability; and

There must be a trained official present.

However, in reality it appears that these ATV safety rules are being ignored by parents and the government.

N.S. Better Than Many Provinces

The Nova Scotia legislation is still far more stringent than some other provinces. For example, British Columbia has no provincial legislation for the recreational use of ATVs. One of the goals of the CPS is to encourage a uniform approach to the governing of ATV use across the provinces. Specifically the CPS is recommending that the age of 16 be imposed as the minimum age for the operation of ATVs.

As I have written in my book Brain Matter , one of the many myths about Traumatic Brain Injuries (T.B.I.) is that children are capable of recovering quickly.

In fact, Dr. William Singer, a specialist in pediatric brain surgery has been quoted saying, “While children are resilient to many things, T.B.I. is not one of them. Children just don’t bounce back after a traumatic brain injury.”

Children More Vulnerable to Brain Injury

In addition, T.B.I. is particularly worrying with children because they do not have the same life experience that adults have to draw upon to aid in their rehabilitation. Young children may be more vulnerable to the effects of serious brain injury than adults because during rehabilitation an adult is relearning previously acquired skills while children have to learn new skills with impaired cognitive or motor function.

All the more reason why further measures need to be taken to protect children from unsafe ATV operation. What do you think? Should children be riding ATV’s? Should the province (and parents) be doing more to enforce the safety rules that are already in place?

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