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ATV riders ought to be at least 16, wear helmets

July 27, 2004

Following the deaths of two children under the age of 12 after an all-terrain vehicle crash, some safety proponents are calling for age limits for ATV riders. We agree. Some children apparently need more protection than their parents are willing to provide.

Maryland is one of many states that doesn't have a minimum age for ATV use, although riders on state forest trails must wear helmets and be at least 14.

So what's an appropriate rule? The Associated Press reports that the Consumer Federation of America is advocating 16 as the minimum age, but the industry wants a law allowing children as young as 12 to drive machines with smaller engines than adult-sized models.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission likes the industry's suggested limits and has relied on its consent agreement not to sell ATVs for use by very young children.

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But as a commission spokesman noted, what happens when the parent gets the ATV home? Will he or she enforce the rules, or ignore them?

The truth is that unless it's prohibited under the law, some parents are going to conclude that the industry's recommendations are just suggestions, and not binding on them or their families.

We favor a nationwide law restricting ATV ridership to those 16 and over. Helmets and a safety course should also be required, for two reasons.

The first is that no family should have to mourn a child whose life has been lost in this way. The other is that there are costs, financial and otherwise, associated with caring for children with traumatic injuries.

The financial costs involve the dispatching of an ambulance, treatment in the emergency room and any aftercare that's required. Even if the family has adequate insurance, the cost of paying off such a claim is shared by all policy-holders, most of whom probably don't own ATVs.

The second is that for rescue workers and medical personnel, treating seriously injured children is more stressful because they know victims may face lifelong consequences from an accident they weren't mature enough to avoid.

For many years, children who wanted to go fast rode bicycles. Requiring children to do that until they're 16 may seem strict, but it should ensure that more of them reach that age with everything intact.

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