Kentucky led the nation in ATV crash fatalities from 2007 to 2011 with 122 deaths, or 7 percent of the nation's total, according to a study released this month by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The state's numbers dropped in the last two years, with 16 ATV fatalities in 2012 and 11 so far in 2013, Kentucky State Police said Friday.
Kentucky's most recent death came Thursday. Glenn David Hoskins, 43, took a 2006 Honda ATV for a drive in Clay County on Christmas afternoon. Hoskins lost control of the four-wheeler and was thrown when it overturned. He later died at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.
According to state police, who investigated the wreck, Hoskins' death was typical in three ways: He wasn't wearing a protective helmet; alcohol use was suspected to play a role; and — despite a law against it — he was driving an ATV on a public highway used by cars and trucks.
Most ATV deaths in Kentucky result from blunt-force trauma to the head, either from the driver slamming into the ground or having the vehicle roll over him, said Trooper Paul Blanton, state police spokesman. An ATV can weigh more than 500 pounds, so it easily can break bones.
"Not counting (Hoskins), I know that we've had 10 ATV fatalities this year, and all 10 of those were not wearing a helmet," Blanton said. "It would be nice if they gave them a chance, at least."
Kentucky law does not require ATV drivers to wear helmets unless they are younger than 16, and even then the legislature inserted loopholes. Underage drivers don't need a helmet if they're doing farming, mining or logging work, or any other commercial or industrial activity, or if they're on private property.
"There's definitely a lot of exemptions in the helmet requirement," Blanton said.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit in Arlington, Va., released a study Dec. 19 examining five years of ATV-related deaths based on data from the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
Kentucky had the most ATV-related fatalities in that period, coming in far ahead of more populous states such as Texas and California, according to the study.
Kentucky State Police give a smaller number for the state's ATV fatalities from 2007 to 2011 — 104, compared to the 122 cited in the study — although either would put Kentucky at the top of the list. The difference appears to be that the study covered more ground, including utility-task vehicles along with all-terrain vehicles, and it counted people killed in collisions with the four-wheelers who weren't riding on them.
There were 1,701 ATV-related deaths nationally in that time, according to the study. Among the fatalities, only 13 percent of drivers and 6 percent of passengers wore helmets. Forty-three percent of drivers had blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater, which is the point at which most states legally consider a motorist to be drunk. Thirty percent had a BAC of 0.15.
About 40 percent of the fatalities were children, usually passengers riding behind the drivers.
Typically, the ATV smashed into something — a tree, a utility pole, an embankment — or, less frequently, it flipped over as the driver lost control, and often the driver was speeding. Forty-six percent of fatal ATV crashes happened on a road, and in about 20 percent of those cases, the ATV crashed with a car or truck. This is one reason why most states prohibit ATVs from driving on public highways, the study's researchers wrote.
"ATVs are not intended for on-road use and have design features that can increase risk when operated on paved surfaces. However, the majority of ATV rider deaths now occur on roads," the researchers wrote. "State laws prohibiting on-road use have many exceptions, and it is not clear how well these laws are understood by ATV operators and the police."
1. Kentucky, 122
2. Pennsylvania, 97
3. West Virginia, 96
4. Texas, 95
5. California, 79
Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety