Basic steps can ensure a safe ATV ride

I couldn’t even begin to count the number of children I have seen critically injured in all-terrain vehicle crashes in my 20-plus years as a surgeon at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. But I can tell you what I almost always hear from their parents: They wish their child had been wearing the right helmet or been better educated on how to ride the vehicle safely.

We do know from Emergency Room data that in 2012 alone, ACH admitted 95 children with ATV-related injuries. These kids ranged from 6 months to 21 years old. Their injuries were brutal: spinal fractures, broken limbs, concussions and serious internal bleeding. Sadly, some of these children died.

The Children’s Safety Network tells us that children under 16 are four times more likely than older riders to sustain ATV-related injuries that require emergency treatment. What makes ATVs so much more dangerous for children? Kids’ small size and lack of strength, coordination and maturity.

At ACH, we maintain that the best way to protect your children from ATV injuries is to make sure your children don’t ride these vehicles. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no one under the age of 16 ride on or operate an ATV, too.

But we also know that in our state with its beautiful countryside and the importance of hunting and farming, families certainly will use ATVs. So here’s a good way to help your kids remember the rules for riding these vehicles. Remind them to Ride Right! Right Size, Right Place, Right Helmet.

The biggest dangers we see with ATVs are kids riding the wrong size vehicle, in the wrong location without a helmet. The Ride Right! campaign reminds us to tackle all of those obstacles so families can plan a safe outing.

Here are some tips from the Injury Prevention Center at ACH that can further help your adventure-seeking older kids avoid the most serious threats ATVs pose:

• RIGHT SIZE: Children should never ride adult-size ATVs.

• RIGHT PLACE: Stay off-road. ATVs are NOT designed to be operated on paved roadways. The majority of deadly ATV crashes occur when they’re used on roads.

• RIGHT HELMET: Always wear a helmet. Wearing the right size helmet can reduce the risk of death in a crash by almost half.

• Ride without passengers. Most ATVs are designed for just one rider.

• Only children old enough to obtain a driver’s license are old enough to operate ATVs.

• Plan the trip. Think ahead about potential hazards and be sure to notify someone about where you’re going and when you expect to return.

• Don’t use drugs or alcohol. Driving an ATV is challenging and requires full focus.

• Get hands-on training on how to operate an ATV safely and correctly. Training is offered for free by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Contact Jack Boles, ATV instructor, at or call (501) 671-2352.

You can also request a free ATV safety toolkit by contacting the ACH Injury Prevention Center at (866) 611-3445 or by emailing

Don’t make ATV safety a parent-only concept. Talk to your kids about why this is important and how it could save their lives.

You never know when your child will be at a friend’s house, away from your guidance, when someone suggests a trip on their ATV. Won’t you be proud if they know enough to protect themselves and the other child?

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Dr. Sam Smith is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a professor of surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He writes a column each week covering a variety of kids’ medical concerns.