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ATV industry has blood on its hands

Yet again this week I had to write the story I have written far too many times previously the story of a child dead following a four-wheeler crash. This time it was a 15-year-old girl with a lifetime of promise ahead of her. According to the coroner, she was going too fast, not wearing a helmet and making jumps on a powerful four-wheeler. She crashed and died tragically, her head split open. She leaves behind family and friends devastated with grief and a community traumatized by her loss. This is nothing new. ATVs were introduced in the 1970s. At first they were powered tricycles built by Honda primarily used for herding cattle. My friends and I spent much time hunting in the Mennonite dairy community in Macon County back then and there were at least two Mennonite children maimed or killed herding dairy cows on the blasted things each year. Many more suffered other injuries. Rocky Wainwright, a local DNR ranger, was killed on a three-wheeler in August 1999 while searching for a missing girl who turned up murdered. ATVs kill indiscriminately but they kill kids at great rates. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ATVs killed 29 people and injured another 10,100 in 1982. That number grew to 150,000 injured and 766 dead in 2007. Of the 10,281 reported deaths from 1982 to 2009, nearly 3,000 were children under 16 years of age. Still, ATV makers recklessly turn out products that have greater horsepower and go faster than last year’s models. Adding to this insanity is the number of parents or supervising adults who let children fly across the countryside on these deathtraps without donning a helmet. We’ve all seen these kids pop out of a ditch or logging road and race across or alongside a highway helmet-less. They think they are invincible but they are just one sharp turn, large rock, patch of loose gravel or moment of carelessness from death. So, what can be done? ATVs are a big business and manufacturers will keep on churning them out without regard to the blood on their hands. Government regulation is never really the answer to anything but these manufacturers should be held to some sort of safety standards. There should also be a licensing procedure with mandatory safety training as a component. Helmets should be required. Age limits should be addressed. Should children under age 14 or so be strictly prohibited from operating ATVs or riding on them without a parent at the controls? The most needed change is common sense on the part of parents and supervising adults. If you have one of the ultra-fast ATVs and have kids, I strongly suggest you reevalute its danger and take precautions to better ensure their safety. Tragedy could be just around the corner if you don’t! Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and the Pike County Journal Reporter.

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