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Are Four Wheelers Safe for Children?

Being raised in a family of four girls, it was a whole new ballgame when I gave birth to two sons.  Obviously the differences started early on as they, of course, preferred baseballs and bicycles over dolls and ballet lessons.  For me it was a new adventure, and quite a scary one.  Trying to recognize and internalize the fact that boys are naturally rough and tumble was probably the most difficult lesson I’d ever had to learn.  Learning to loosen the “umbilical” cord and allow them freedom to do what little boys desire to do was frustrating as all I wanted to do was protect and prevent them from getting hurt.

Over the years, I’ve learned that as a mom, you just have to let go (to a certain degree).  They’re going to hurt themselves and each other but apparently that’s the name of the game for brothers and boys (as long as hurting the other isn’t intentional).  Thankfully, my boys are equally matched in size and strength so I don’t have to worry quite as much as perhaps boys who aren’t paired quite as equally.   But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry.

These days, entertainment extends beyond the back yard, tree houses, and sling shots.  It encompasses so many activities that can be deemed dangerous and that ARE actually quite dangerous.  Determining what activities that you’re going to allow your children to engage should be taken seriously as many children are injured and killed each year participating in activities that aren’t safe and/or properly supervised.  Although there are many, and I’m not going to cover each of them today, I want to address one in particular as over 40,000 children are injured and/or killed annually as they engage in riding four-wheelers.

Four-wheelers aren’t toys!!!  This is the first concept that every parent and/or adult needs to understand.  They are vehicles that can operate at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.  On top of that, they aren’t equipped with seat belts, doors, sides, airbags, a roll cage or anything to keep the occupants, whether child or adult, from being ejected from the vehicle.  I suppose the first question a parent should ask themselves, when considering purchasing a four-wheeler for their child(ren) is, “Would I allow my eight, ten, twelve or fourteen year old to drive my vehicle?”  If you answered “no”, you may want to rethink your decision about allowing them to drive and/or ride along on a four-wheeler then.

As often is the case, the most seriously injured individual in a motor vehicle accident isn’t the driver but the passenger – especially in the case of four-wheeler accidents.  This is because passengers have little to hold onto.  Now consider the fact that most four-wheelers are being driven on rough terrain, off-road, more often on uneven surfaces than not, and typically in areas with very little if no visibility by adult(s), you can probably understand how this vehicle and the environment in which it is used provide a substantial potential for disaster.  In fact, it isn’t necessarily a passenger becoming injured or killed when these vehicles collide with or flip, but instead simply being thrown off due to the four-wheeler traveling too fast or being driven too fast over bumps or through ditches.

As mentioned above, 40,000 injuries or deaths have been attributed to four-wheelers annually just in the United States alone.  It has become such an epidemic that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons have recommended and adopted policies stating that children under the age of 16 years not drive all-terrain vehicles or more specifically, four-wheelers.  Some states have gotten more specific in their recommendations and laws including Texas who adopted laws regulating the use of four-wheelers and included that drivers under the age of 14 must be supervised by an adult at all times; and that all drivers and riders MUST wear a helmet and eye protection.  Additionally, anyone operating or riding on ATV’s must take an all-terrain safety course.  Unfortunately, many people ignore the laws and the end result is often one that could have been avoided.

One of the most predominate problems in the U.S. regarding ATV’s is that parents will often purchase (1) vehicle that will be driven by all the members of the family regardless of their size.  What this does is create an unsafe situation right from the start.  If a child isn’t large enough to straddle the ATV comfortably, they’ve virtually had one source of stability taken away from them before the vehicle even begins to move. 

Children under the age of 6 should NEVER be allowed on a four-wheeler.  It simply isn’t safe for them.  Unfortunately, parents will often cave in to the demands of their screaming, pleading child who desires to ride along with other family members.  Many times, they’ve been known to start and ride the ATV without the permission of anyone if given the opportunity – unsupervised.   Additionally, children will often experience the “thrill” of riding an ATV when visiting friends – unbeknownst to parents.  This experience, while fun for the child, may also prove tragic.

If you are considering purchasing an ATV for the entertainment of your children, please reconsider.  Too many things can happen that may haunt you and/or your child forever.  There are safer, more appropriate forms of entertainment that are intended for children.

Please consider these tips & suggestions before blindly sending your child off to someone elses home (trust me, it happens):

  • Get to know your Neighbors (or child’s friend’s family) – Believe it or not, people aren’t always what they may seem.  Some families operate under a totally different set of acceptable and unacceptable standards than you may.  Case & Point:  One of my son’s friends parents found it perfectly acceptable for their son (age 12) to ride both a motorbike and an ATV whenever he chose without parental supervision.  Obviously not something that I condone and immediately had to establish a rule with both the parent’s of the child and the child that under NO circumstance would my son be allowed to engage in these activities.
  • Establish Rules (at home and away) for your Child – Make certain that your child understands your rules and that they may NOT violate them when visiting others.  I know, rules are meant to be broken, or so some individuals believe, but safety and well-being of your child is the most important issue and explaining to them that, although these activities appear to be fun, they are also extremely dangerous.  I would recommend allowing your child to view safety videos and footage of accidents so that they fully comprehend the dangers associated with ATV’s.
  • Choose Appropriately Sized ATV’s – Although as you’ve probably deduced by now, I am not a proponent of ATV’s.  I’ve witnessed fatal accidents which could have been prevented and seen “children” operating vehicles that they couldn’t control.  If you are of the opposing opinion and decide that this is a form of entertainment that you’d like to provide your family, choose ATV’s that will fit the members of the family.  If you intend to allow younger children to operate and/or ride as a passenger, choose an ATV that will “fit” them.  The same is true for older drivers/passengers in your family.  One-size-does NOT fit all when it comes to ATV’s.
  • Provide Safety Training and Equipment – If providing your family with the opportunity to operate or ride an ATV, invest in training.  There are safety courses available that anyone intending to drive or ride should engage.  Additionally, insure that each member of your family who will be riding has properly fitted helmets and goggles.  These pieces of equipment are intended to provide a certain element of protection and definitely worth the expense.  If you can afford an ATV you can afford the necessities.  ATV Safety courses are available online. For information on Safety Courses, please visit http://www.atvsafety.org/

With summer here and parents looking for ways to provide entertainment for their children, it isn’t uncommon for decisions to be made without weighing all of the facts.  Please consider your decision to purchase a four-wheeler or other ATV carefully and make certain that you take the necessary precautions before doing so.  Most of all remember, you wouldn’t make a hasty decision about the type of vehicle to purchase or allow your teenage driver to purchase would you?

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