Child Injuries, Deaths Lead to Push for ATV Safety in Louisiana

October 27, 2009

It wasn’t too long ago when Karen Ahmad answered a telephone call that changed her life, at least her professional life. As an intensive care nurse at the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., Ahmad said she’d seen more than her share of pain in children, but, she said, there was more than alarm on the other end of the line.

“The nurse manager in the emergency room called and said that in the previous three weeks there were six children critically injured in ATV accidents. She asked me to look into it,” Ahmad said.

“Stunned” and “shocked” were the two words that came next.

“No one realized how much risk this activity posed for children,” she said. “This wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen.”

And, she added, that when the final statistics are out for 2008, she expects to see similar numbers from previous years – about 1,500 children will have been in emergency rooms across the state to seek treatment after riding ATVs.

Yes, there are fatalities among that number.

Ahmad and Todd Tarifa, who heads the ATV Safety Awareness Program for Louisiana 4-H, said the state has taken giant steps in the last four years to try to reduce ATV injuries in children and adults.

“We’re coming up on a time of the year, especially this time of year, when kids are on four-wheelers,” Tarifa said. “From cane field harvesting to hunting season and time at hunting camps, we know ATV use increases.

“And we’re going to see children on 350s and above (ATVs with 350cc engines and larger) and that’s almost giving them (children) a death sentence, especially if they are unsupervised,” Tarifa said.

Fellow 4-H instructor David Bolt said the first thing parents should do is have an age-appropriate ATV for the child.

“We know it’s a financial decision in many cases, and we know there’s not a whole lot of instruction that goes on (for a child),” Bolt said. “You have to take a test and pass it to get driver’s license. In many cases, children get on an ATV as soon as they can get on one and they take off.

“While it’s in the name of having fun, it’s the most dangerous activity as far as a moving vehicle as we have in Louisiana.”

Ahmad said the more than 1,500 hours she’s spent researching children, their injuries and the fatalities has led her to several conclusions.

“The politically correct thing is to cite from the American Academy of Pediatricians and to recommend no child under 16 ride on or operate an all-terrain vehicle,” she said. “What I learned was that position has not served us well, and we needed to take another approach than saying no children on ATVs.”

She said cautionary words likely will not deter the more than 20,000 youngsters who will ride ATVs this year. Some, she said, are riding the even more dangerous three-wheeled ATVs.

Ahmad said her research turned up four recommendations for safer ATV use, including:

  • No children on adult-sized vehicles.
  • No riding on roads.
  • No passenger riding because all ATVs are designed for a single rider.
  • Using a helmet.

Ahmad, Tarifa and Bolt are members of teams of Louisianans dedicated to ATV safety education. OLOL and 4-H have found allies with the Baton Rouge Safety Council, the Safety Council of Louisiana, Kohl’s Department Stores and ASI, the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute, to provide safety courses across the state.

“We have two levels,” Tarifa said. “We can use the ASI course and put kids on the ATVs and instruct them on proper riding. Another is an ATV safety awareness course that doesn’t put kids on ATVs.”

“We have a four-hour certification course that’s designed for any age,” Bolt said. “We have state troopers and accident-response personnel taking this course. It’s for old and young, but the focus of all these courses is for the young ones more than the older folks. We’re not going to turn anyone down.”

Information from: The Advocate,

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