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ATV Study at University of Kentucky Seeks to Reduce Accidents

Jun 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP ATV (all terrain vehicles) accidents killed at least 500 people in 2006, and sent another 146,600 to hospital emergency room.  As the vehicles grow  in popularity, the number of ATV deaths and injuries is expected  to rise as well.  

That prospect has officials in Kentucky concerned, as the state already led the nation in ATV deaths in 2007.  Over the Memorial Day weekend, the state recorded four more ATV deaths.  That caught the attention of a doctor at the University of Kentucky hospital, who has launched a research study aimed at finding the reasons behind ATV accidents.

Even though they are used for recreation, ATVs are not toys.  Such vehicles are three or four wheeled and are used for “off-roading” or riding in natural conditions. Many ATVs can go as fast as 55 MPH and can weigh as heavy as a quarter of a ton. Some 75% of the ATV accidents result in serious damage to the head or spinal cord of the accident victim. Head injuries are a major cause of serious life threatening or lifelong physical problems and ailments. Injury to the spinal cord can result in paralysis of the entire body for life.

Dr. Andrew Bernard, a surgeon at the University of Kentucky hospital, hopes the new study will reduce ATV accidents - especially among children and teens.  "I see people get injured all the time, and I think, 'How can we prevent this?"' Dr. Bernard told the "Ledger Independent".

Right now, researchers involved in this project are working with young riders to determine the cause of severe injuries and death.  One of the early tests in the study tried to simulate what young riders feel while driving on an incline.  Other tests include a computer modeling study and a questionnaire for the riders, including whether they feel safe on the vehicle.

One of the biggest problems researchers say they have discovered so far is that ATVs are often too big - or too small - to safely carry the child riding them.  Current recommendations for determining the right vehicle size are based on age categories. Researchers, however, say the categories -- ages 6 to 11, 12 to 15, and 16 and up -- are too broad.  Dr. Bernard says that findings of the study so far indicate that size, height and body weight requirements might go a long way to helping ATV enthusiasts find the safest vehicle.

Despite their obvious dangers, ATVs are still extremely popular.  There are some steps riders can take to make their ATV experience safer.  The most important is to wear a helmet, which can do a lot to prevent head injuries.  Children under 3 should never  be allowed on an ATV, and no child of any age should operate one.  Safety experts also say riders would do best to use their ATVs on trails specifically designed for the vehicles.

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