Warning—I am about to step on some toes. And I know that. I don’t plan on apologizing beforehand because hopefully said stepping will not require such. There are just certain subjects in this life about which I feel very strongly, so much so that it is difficult for me to remain silent when confronted with them. This is one of those subjects.
Over the last several days the Internet has been awash with stories about Maddie, the eight year old daughter of Jamie Lynn Spears and Jamie Watson, who was involved in what could have been an extremely serious if not fatal ATV accident. In order to avoid a drainage ditch she overcorrected and landed in a pond on their property. Secured by her seatbelt and caught in the safety netting of the ATV—and despite the frantic efforts of her parents—she remained submerged for approximately two minutes before rescue personnel arrived and freed her. Fortunately, it appears that she will not only survive but will not suffer any long term effects from the accident. She is one of the lucky ones.
Modern ATVs were introduced in the 1970s and were immediately recognized as being one of the most dangerous recreational vehicles available. Based on studies by the National Trauma Data Bank, they are more dangerous than dirt bikes and equal to motorcycles when mortality and injury rates are compared. According to Wikipedia:
“In the United States, statistics released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) show that in 2005, there were an estimated 136,700 injuries associated with ATVs treated in US hospital emergency rooms. In 2004, the latest year for which estimates are available, 767 people died in ATV-associated incidents. According to statistics released by CPSC, the risk of injury in 2005 was 171.5 injuries per 10,000 four-wheel ATVs in use. The risk of death in 2004 was 1.1 deaths per 10,000 four-wheelers in use.”
Now, 1.1 deaths per 10,000 four-wheelers may not seem like a lot . . . until someone you love becomes one of the 1.1. Yes, the statistics quoted are over a decade old, but the article goes on to say that estimates show the percentage of injuries and deaths have remained constant in the years since, even considering the increased usage of such vehicles.
Please, do not misunderstand at whose feet I’m laying the blame. Through the magic of advertising, the adults of this world are led to believe that ATVs pose no real threat to life or limb. That’s a true statement when they are used properly by people who are able to handle them. It is sorely misleading when you are talking about adult-sized machines being operated by children. Are there warnings and requirements and fine print? Yes, but seemingly not enough. Often children are allowed to ride with little or no instruction or protection, a by-product of the false sense of security provided by the alleged stability of four wheels instead of two or three.
Why, you may ask, do I even care about ATV usage and the rates of injury and death? Because it breaks my heart every time one of those children comes to us, and we’ve had far more than the average 1.1 per 10,000. Because it breaks my heart to see their families try to come to terms with what has happened while blaming themselves for something they never even realized was possible. Because my son could have been one of those statistics when, years ago (and against my direct orders), he climbed aboard an ATV as the passenger . . . without knowing the driver had no experience as a driver. They flipped into a pond and the ATV actually ran over him. I told him he was lucky; the one area of his anatomy that needed a good paddling was too bruised for me to supply one.
I know this is not a popular stance to take, especially in the rural South, and there are many other daily activities that are equally hazardous, but people need to be aware of the dangers posed by ATVs so hopefully injuries can be avoided and lives saved. This is my shot in the dark, my attempt to warn the world. Please, if you own an ATV, treat it with the respect it demands. Maddie had on her seatbelt. The ATV she was riding was equipped with safety netting and I’m sure numerous other features designed to provide happy endings to accidents, but if the first responders had not arrived as quickly as they did, her story would have had a very different and potentially disastrous outcome. Please make sure that any activity in which your children participate is age-appropriate with every possible safeguard in place, mainly because they are far too precious to lose. They may not understand and they may temporarily dislike you, but hopefully they’ll have many years to get over it.