Health & Medicine

Step one for ATV safety: Wear a helmet

Each year nearly 200 adults and children are evaluated and admitted to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital and Kentucky Children's Hospital due to ATV accidents. Since Jan. 1, 2010, there have been 770 ATV crashes that have led to patients being admitted to UK HealthCare facilities — including 24 cases that resulted in fatalities.

But following a few precautions when using ATVs may have prevented many of these deaths and injuries.

Most injuries in youths are head or musculoskeletal injuries associated with long-term disability. Nationwide, more than 10,000 people are admitted to hospitals annually after ATV injuries at an average hospital cost more than $19,000 per admission and total costs in excess of $200,000,000 annually.

Wearing a helmet is the first, and simplest, step ATV rider can take to reduce their chances of going to the emergency room. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, only 13 percent of drivers in fatal ATV accidents were wearing a helmet.

The reality is ATVs weigh about 500 pounds so it doesn't matter how fast you're going, if it rolls over your head, you are going to die.

In an effort to teach children and adults about ATV safety, we offer some simple guidelines:

Don't drink and drive. Alcohol is a factor in many ATV injuries and deaths by impairing judgment and reaction times.

Don't ride at night when you can't see the terrain and objects that may cause you to crash.

All drivers — adults and children — should take a hands-on ATV safety course from a certified instructor.

Along with a helmet, wear other protective gear as well when riding ATVs.

Do not ride on a single-rider ATV as a passenger or carry a passenger if you drive one.

Do not drive ATVs on paved roads. ATVs have solid rear axles that make turning on paved surfaces difficult and dangerous, increasing the risk of the ATV overturning or hitting another object, such as a tree or car.

Do not permit children younger than 16 years old to drive or ride adult ATVs. Children younger than 16 lack the developmental skills to safely drive adult ATVs, and more than 90 percent of all injuries to children involve this scenario. Likewise, children younger than six should never be on an ATV — either as a driver or a passenger.

ATVs are one of the fastest growing sectors of the power sports industry, far exceeding motorcycles in annual sales growth. The majority of ATV use occurs in rural areas, and the power sports industry actively advertises to youths and promotes off-road motor sports as family activities.

If you choose to drive or ride on an ATV, do it safely and remember the basic safety guidelines. It could save your life.