Do you know there are three sizes of all-terrain vehicles: large, medium and small? The smallest designed for children as young as six years old!

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 16 million Americans ride ATVs (all terrain vehicles). With rapidly increasing sales and popularity of off-road vehicles and increased usage come even greater dangers to drivers and riders. Of especial concern is the ever-present risk of injury to minors.

The Hawaii Legislature is considering HB18 which defines ATVs, and provides “no minor [under 18 years of age] shall operate, ride, or be otherwise propelled on an all-terrain vehicle.”  The bill was heard by the House Transportation Committee and will move to the House Judiciary Committee for further hearing. But don’t get me wrong. I think ATVs are a fun, recreational opportunity for residents, and tourists, alike, and they are helpful vehicles on farms and ranches.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has sounded an alarm about ATV dangers, particularly among children under 16 years of age. Other national and local medical organizations have also raised concerns about children’s safety. Hawaii still doesn’t have any laws regarding the use and safety of operating, riding, or being propelled on all-terrain vehicles.

Every year, tens of thousands of kids are severely injured or killed in ATV accidents, some are infants! This year’s campaign for the national Concerned Families for ATV Safety is targeted to parents of adolescent ATV operators.  Because the adult ATVs are heavy (up to 800 pounds), roll over easily, and really aren’t meant to carry passengers:  children and young adolescents shouldn’t be on them. They lack the experience, training and judgment to handle the vehicles. The American Academy of Pediatrics has adopted formal policies recommending that children under 16 not drive ATVs. They also maintain that automobile driver’s license or some additional certification on ATV use should be required, as the skill and judgment needed to operate an automobile is similar to handling and ATV.

The Hawaii record is shameful.  Recently, a 16-year-old girl was killed while driving an ATV on the Big Islan. Her 11-year-old sister escaped with minor injuries. Another passenger, a four-year-old sister, was in critical condition and flown to Queens Hospital. In January this year, a man was killed when he drove off a bridge and was pinned under the ATV in a stream. More Hawaii statistics: From 1991 to 2009, there were 16 fatalities related to ATV use. There was only one death prior to 2001, but at least one death each year since.  Four of the victims were 17 years or younger, including two drivers, one passenger and one of unknown status.

Non-fatal injuries to ATV riders have also been increasing. According to the Queen’s Trauma Registry, non-fatal injures went from 2-5 injuries per year from 1998 to 2002 to 11-18 injuries per year from 2003-2008.  About one-third (31%) of the patients were under the age of 18, and most (75%) of these minor-aged patients were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

EMS personnel attended to 152 injured ATV riders from September 2006 through August 2008, including 39 (26%) who were under 18 years of age.  Only 41% of the riders were wearing a helmet at the time of injury, and this proportion was lower (32%) among the minor-aged riders.

Nationally, from 1999 to 2001, there were 698 reported fatalities to youth ages 1-19 years from off-road vehicle crashes, says the CPSC.  Off-road vehicles include ATVs, snowmobiles, and hovercraft. Central nervous system injuries accounted for 80 percent of fatalities in ATV-related crashes. Helmets may reduce risk of death by 42%.

Forty-one states allow use of ATVs on Public Lands, and of these Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming are the only states and the District of Columbia that do not have any form of Safety Laws pertaining to ATVs.

ATV accidents have the highest risk of hospitalization of 33 sports and activities in which children routinely participate, according to the CPSC (Consumer Protection Safety Commission).  The risk of serious injury associated with driving ATVs is 61% greater than the next highest risk sport: football. Voluntary standards agreed to by the industry have not worked. Smaller, “youth” marketed off-road vehicles continue to be targeted to adolescents. The problems of operating them will only grow, as more young people ride them.

ATV ridership is growing in the State of Hawaii.  Technically, people are not allowed to drive ATV’s on roads as there is no ATV license, the vehicles are not registered and do not have safety checks, and no one pays weight fees on them, all of which are required to operate a vehicle on public roads. But they are everywhere–off-road, on public and private lands.

Regulating ATV use in Hawaii to safeguard minors will reduce risks and dangerous, injuries and deaths.  I urge the State, Counties and individuals to support the movement to protect our children.

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