I was checking out The Running of the Bulls on the internet yesterday. If you haven’t heard, that’s a festival in Pamplona, Spain where they set bulls loose in the streets of the city. Thrill-seekers get chased by the bulls, and every year the news shows someone getting gored by a bull’s horns and/or stomped on. I found one site titled, “Running of the Bulls with Families,” and did a double-take. They let kids run with the bulls too??!!
Fortunately, that website said children aren’t allowed in the streets when the bulls run, and discussed how families can reserve a balcony to see the fun. It reminded me of our own Louisiana version of Running of The Bulls with Families which I call “Letting Kids Drive ATVs.”
ATVs (or 4-wheelers) and bulls have lots in common. They are both over-powered. Like bulls, ATVs are designed to go off road and pull farm wagons. That requires a lot of power, too much for young children to handle. Also like bulls, ATVs are difficult to control. ATVs have high centers of gravity and go fast, making them easy to roll over. They require hand-eye coordination and anticipation of hazards that children don’t have, which is why we don’t let kids drive cars before age 15.
And yet many parents put their children on ATVs anyway. They even make 4-wheelers for kids! I have treated ATV drivers as young as 5 years old in the Emergency Department. It boggles the mind that these parents don’t see the potential for injuries. Kids fly off them and hit their heads, sometimes sustaining severe brain injuries. Kids roll the things, the heavy machine tumbling over the child, maybe causing organ rupture and internal bleeding. Kids zip past trees and posts, smashing hands and ankles, knees and elbows. Children who lose control sometimes run over their friends.
I have seen all these injuries in all degrees of severity. I have seen ATVs put children in the Operating Room and in Intensive Care. I have warned in this blog, in the newspaper, and on TV about letting kids drive them. Yet some parents can’t stop from indulging their children with 4-wheelers, no matter what experts say.
In fact, Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seems to have given up cautioning against putting kids on ATVs, and instead has posted recommendations for “safe” ATV operation for kids. As I list these recommendations, it feels like giving children safety instructions on smoking cigarettes (“Hey kids, be sure to smoke only filter tips!”).
The first tip on the CPSC fact sheet is to stay off paved roads. ATVs are for off-road. They go too fast, get harder to control, and are easier to roll over on pavement. Also, roads are where the cars and truck are, and I’ve seen too many kids crash into the bigger, faster moving vehicles. Another tip: never allow children younger than 16 on adult ATVs. The CPSC states that more than 90% of child ATV injuries happen when they drive adult machines, given kids’ lack of size and developmental skills. Thus companies make ”age-appropriate youth models.” (Maybe It’s time cigarette companies come out with age-appropriate youth models too). To be fair, the kid models have adjustable speed limiters, making it harder to go unsafe speeds. Please keep the adjuster to a safe setting!
Kids (and adults) should wear helmets, goggles, gloves, long pants and sleeves, and over-the-ankle boots. Going off road means tree branches, fence posts, and rocks, so wearing that stuff makes good sense. Allow only one rider on single-rider ATVs. Safe operation of ATVs requires the driver to be able to shift weight freely and a passsenger gets in the way, increasing the risk of roll-over or other crashes. Finally, if you must let your child drive an ATV, get them training! Deaths and injuries happen when inexperienced drivers lose control, get thrown, roll over, or run into things. Hands-on training can help your kid avoid bad situations. FInd a course at the ATV Safety Institute, the ATV dealer, or the National 4-H Council.
Even better, save lots of money and heartache by getting your kid a really good bicycle instead.