ST. GEORGE — A spike in ATV-related injuries in kids prompted child safety experts at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital to remind riders to wear helmets and to use age-appropriate safety gear in an effort to prevent a potential tragedy before it strikes.
Safety was the topic during a press conference held in at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, after Intermountain Healthcare saw a 34% increase in the number of traumatic injuries in kids riding ATVs between 2019 and 2020.
Even more troubling, the current number of ATV-related injuries is on track to meet or exceed last year’s numbers.
The safety initiatives couldn’t have come at a better time – as Intermountain West has the fourth-highest traumatic brain injury hospitalization rate in the country for children ages 5-14, and nearly 7% of those injuries involve motor vehicles – including ATVs.
“Sadly, many children do not survive the injuries suffered while riding ATVs,” community health manager, Jessica Strong with Primary Children’s Hospital said during the conference.
Strong added that many of the injuries health care providers see in children involved in ATV crashes could have been avoided if certain safety steps were taken prior to the incident.
Another troubling statistic discussed during the conference was that Utah has more traumatic brain injuries among children than almost any other state in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and ATV crashes play a major role in that statistic.
The numbers also show that children are 1,000 times more likely to be injured riding on an ATV than riding in a car, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“Wearing a helmet – every ride – every time, and getting educated before heading out on the trails would have prevented many of these tragedies,” Strong added.
One such case involved an 11-year-old Las Vegas girl, Emelia, who was riding in a side-by-side ATV in Sanpete County last September when it rolled, pinning the child to the ground.
The girl was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital for treatment, and according to the child’s treating physicians, it was miraculous that she survived.
The child suffered broken facial bones, a broken collarbone and three cardiac arrests following the accident, as well as oxygen deprivation to her brain. Surgeons then had to reattach her trachea to her lung.
Following the surgeries, the child underwent weeks of rehab, and the child’s mother, Jessica, said it was amazing to see her daughter heal as quickly as she did.
The mother told hospital staff it was the helmet that saved the young girl’s life. It wasn’t until later that she learned her daughter’s safety belt had not been fastened properly and she fell out during the rollover, while the other passengers riding in the ATV who were properly restrained remained in their seats during the crash.
During the conference, parents were cautioned to never leave the keys in an unattended ATV, and to make sure there are enough seat belts for everyone in the vehicle.
“Also, if you know you’ll be in a no-service zone, make a plan so you have a way to call for help in an emergency,” Emelia’s mother said.
Karen Hale, a former Utah legislator and past chair of Primary Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees, said that helmet use and wearing protective clothing while riding is critical in saving the life of a child. She also recommended that parents make sure the size and power of the ATV matches the age and size of the youth.
She said that ATV riding “is a family matter” that should be discussed so everyone knows how to keep themselves safe. Rules should also be discussed before any ride even begins, a statement made by a woman who is no stranger to tragedy herself.
Hale’s daughter died at age 20 following injuries from an ATV accident. She was not wearing a helmet when the crash occurred.
“We lost an incredible young woman with a bright future,” Hale said. “We hope other families do not experience such a tragedy.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says off-road vehicles are particularly dangerous for children younger than 16 years, since they are working with an underdeveloped ability to discern the many dangers. Their motor skills are also not developed enough to react quickly when needed.
The academy also says children who are not licensed to drive a car should not be allowed to operate off-road vehicles.
Utah Department of Natural Resources’ Chris Haller, who is the off-highway vehicle program coordinator for the agency, said there has been an uptick in OHV ownership that began during the pandemic, with 17,000 new vehicles registered during last year alone – bringing the total number of registered owners to 214,000.
“More people on Utah’s 80,000 miles of trails is a good thing,” Haller said.
However, a majority of the injuries they see involve those who are new to the sport, often because these vehicles handle very differently than a regular vehicle.
He also said that riders should prepare by becoming educated before the ride, and most importantly, he said “taking eight seconds to click your seatbelt and buckle your helmet makes a huge difference in safety.”
The Utah Department of Natural Resources also offers a safety certification course for any ATV rider, both in person and online, which is where information on events, Utah trail maps, as well as all laws and rules that apply to riding can be found.
Every rider should be certified, Strong said, but for children under 16 or without a driver’s license — it’s the law.
There are steps parents can take to keep their children safe while riding in Southern Utah’s great outdoors. The first step is to replace any helmet that has been worn in a crash or is expired – as helmets are designed to last up to five seasons, or even less depending on the manufacturer.
Ensuring the helmet is a proper fit for the child before the first ride of the year is also important, as children outgrow helmets just as they outgrow clothing and everything else. Children should be outfitted from head to toe before they ride, which includes goggles, long-sleeve shirt, gloves, sturdy pants and over-the-ankle boots.
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