You don’t see them just on farms anymore. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are popular among outdoor enthusiasts of all ages who ride them through trails, fields and off-highway vehicle parks.
The four-wheeled motorized vehicles require skill and quick thinking. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that children under 16 should not use them. In 2015, at least 73 children younger than 16 died and 26,700 were seriously injured by ATVs.
“More kids die on ATVs than die from bicycle crashes,” said Charles Jennissen, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician and safety expert who studies ATV injuries and deaths in children.
His 13-year-old cousin and a neighbor were killed when they drove an ATV onto a roadway near his boyhood farmhouse and were struck by a pickup truck.
More than half of ATV deaths occur on public roadways. Despite their name, ATVs are not safe on all terrains. They have a high center of gravity and off-road tires that unevenly grab paved or gravel road surfaces.
If parents do allow their children under age 16 to ride an ATV, Dr. Jennissen urges them to follow these safety rules:
- Riders should always wear motorcycle-style helmets that are approved by the Department of Transportation.
- Do not carry passengers.
- Stay off public roads.
- Do not allow children to drive an adult model ATV, which can reach speeds of up to 80 mph. Their size and speed make them too dangerous for kids to drive.
There are four youth ATV categories that vary in speed and motor size. None are made for children younger than 6.
ATVs for riders ages 6 and up can travel 10-15 mph. ATVs for riders ages 10 and up and ages 12 and up can travel 15-30 mph. ATVs for riders age 14 and up can travel 20-38 mph.
“We have no idea whether these are safe speeds for kids to travel. The manufacturers haven’t done any studies with kids and determined the speeds at which they can safely drive,” Dr. Jennissen said.
Parents should supervise their children and enforce safety rules, but just watching your child won’t prevent a crash. “It’s very easy for a child to jump on an ATV, push the throttle and make it go,” Dr. Jennissen said. “But that doesn’t mean that they’re able to make the decisions that are necessary to safely operate them.”