Research / Discovery

Expert: ATV hazards are 'major public health problem'

June 13, 2014
by Jeff Dodge

An estimated 100,000 people each year seek medical care for injuries sustained in accidents with all-terrain vehicles in the United States, with a notably high death rate among agricultural ATV riders, a Colorado State University expert says.

ATVs are commonly used on farms and ranches; these are the sites of many accidents.An estimated 100,000 people each year seek medical care for injuries sustained in accidents with all-terrain vehicles in the United States, with a notably high death rate among agricultural ATV riders, according to a Colorado State University expert.

The accident that severed the spinal cord of six-time Olympic gold swimming medalist and CSU alumna Amy Van Dyken-Rouen on June 6 has focused national attention on the hazards of ATV use.

David Gilkey, a CSU expert on ATV dangers, said he hopes the swimming superstar’s experience will generate more awareness about ATV hazards and the need for safety precautions.

“We have a major public health problem with ATVs,” said Gilkey, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences at CSU. “These vehicles are fun, but they have many risks associated with operations. Users should be outfitted, prepared and trained by the ATV Safety Institute before using their vehicles.”

There are an estimated 16 million ATV riders nationwide, said Gilkey, who has studied use of the specialized vehicles for five years. His work is funded by the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, which is based at CSU and is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

National data

Wear protective equipment while riding ATVs, experts suggest.Research done by Gilkey and the center reveals the following about ATV accidents in the United States:

  • ATV accidents result in about 400,000 injuries each year. Of these cases, about 25 percent, or 100,000 people, need medical care.
  • About 800 deaths per year result from ATV accidents.
  • A child younger than 16 dies in an ATV accident once every four days.
  • Agricultural ATV users account for only 20 percent of all riders, but represent 65 percent of occupational ATV-related fatalities – indicating the higher risk associated with agricultural ATV use.

ATV safety recommendations

Gilkey and the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety offer the following ATV safety recommendations:

  • Take the ATV RiderCourse, offered by the national, nonprofit ATV Safety Institute. Information is available at www.atvsafety.org.  
  • Stay off paved roads; ATVs are not designed for that surface.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment: helmet, goggles or face shield, long sleeves and pants, boots and gloves. More than 70 percent of the children who have died in ATV crashes were not wearing helmets.
  • Check the machine for safe operation before riding. Make sure that the lights, brakes and other operating features are functioning properly.
  •  Make sure the rider is fitted to the unit; they come in small, medium and large sizes for kids, adolescents and adults, respectively. More than 90 percent of all child deaths in ATV accidents occurred when children were riding adult-sized ATVs.
  • Take off slowly, be aware of your surroundings, and anticipate the terrain.
  • Carefully follow safety recommendations when starting, stopping, turning, or riding uphill or downhill; find these recommendations on the ATV Safety Institute website, www.atvsafety.org.
  • Unload and load your vehicle safely; get help if needed.
  •  Never carry multiple riders on an ATV.

A variety of other resources on ATV safety is available from the National Ag Safety Database, at http://nasdonline.org/document/993/d000976/atv-safety-packet.html

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