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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Safety Advocates Want Stronger ATV Laws

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Summer months are prime time for hitting trails and open spaces in search of an exhilarating ride. Enter All-terrain vehicles (ATVs). But, what about the safety? According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 150 children die in ATV-related accidents each year with July and August being the deadliest months for ATV accidents. This year, from July 1 to July 23 alone, there were 43 ATV deaths across the U.S. Fourteen of them, including a 12-year-old Illinois girl, involved children 16 and younger.

The Consumer Federation of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that no one under 16 ride an ATV. As much fun as a child may have on this type of vehicle, ATV’s are not toys; they are powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles. Safely operating an ATV requires the driver to make quick decisions, such as speeding up or slowing down in response to changes in the environment. Kids are unlikely to be able to make these choices or have the skills to react to obstacles such as a pond. We don’t allow kids under 16 to drive well-protected in a car on a smooth roadway, yet we think it is somehow fine to let young children ride an ATV that can go up to 50 mph across a bumpy terrain. “Just because a child could see over the dashboard of a car and reach the gas pedal doesn’t mean they have the cognitive and developmental ability to operate a car,” says Rachel Weintraub, legislative director for the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.

In most states, you must be at least 16-years-of-age to obtain a driver’s license. Even at that, you must take, and pass, a road test. The age restriction boils down to if you are younger than that, you probably lack the physical and intellectual maturity to safely operate a car. Yet, when it comes to All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), this is not the case. There are no federal laws regarding ATV use. Each state chooses whether or not to set any requirements, and there’s no single rule which all 50 U.S. states have in common. Some states, such as Illinois, has the least stringent guidelines for riding ATVs — with no restrictions on age, helmet use or number of passengers, and no required safety certification.

For a summary of ATV laws by states, click here. Are the laws stringent enough in your state? Should all state lawmakers revisit the law to help prevent deaths and injuries and help local governments deal with the problem, which also includes destruction of private property? What about child-sized ATVs, which weigh about one-third of the adult models? Are those safe enough for kids? What do you think?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.