ATV Bills Kick Up Debates, Reveal Importance of Safety Discussions
By Gerri Elder
Recent pieces of ATV legislation in Nebraska, North Dakota and Oregon have sparked much debate, and reveal the difficulty of balancing attempts to prevent ATV accidents, injuries and deaths by bolstering safety laws and restrictions versus opening up the roads for experienced riders and farmers or even letting children ride these vehicles.
- A Nebraska ATV bill would open up ATV use beyond designated all-terrain vehicle parks and personal property. Specifically, Legislative Bill 288 would allow ATVs to be driven on all Nebraska roads with the exception of controlled-access highways, according to a story in the Omaha World-Herald. Introduced by Senator LeRoy J. Louden, this Nebraska ATV bill has already caused much concern. Opponents of this Nebraska ATV bill argue that ATVs are not designed for road-use and point to a statistic from a Consumer Product Safety Commission study examining ATV accidents from 1997-2002. According to the CPSC study, 40% of ATV deaths during that period occurred on paved roads.
- A North Dakota ATV bill would allow ten-year-olds in the state to ride off-road ATVs and dirtbikes. Sponsored by Representative RaeAnnKelsch, this North Dakota ATV bill would refute a current law requiring ATV riders to be 12 years old. Kelsch says that such a bill would allow children to participate in popular youth motorcross races and ultimately allow kids to get more practice and become safer riders. Opponents of this North Dakota ATV bill arguer that ten-year-old children do not have the proper physical or cognitive abilities to operate these potentially dangerous vehicles. According to a North Dakota Department of Health statistic cited in a story in The Bismarck Tribune, five children have been killed in ATV accidents in the state since 2000.
- In direct contrast to both the current North Dakota ATV law and bill, an Oregon ATV bill would bar kids under the age of 12 from riding these vehicles and would also limit those aged 12 to 16 to ATVs with engines of 90 cc or less. Many all-terrain vehicle riders in Southern Oregon are so upset with this ATV bill that they are threatening to launch a recall against its co-sponsor, Senator Alan Bates, according to a story in the Mail Tribune. Opponents of this Oregon ATV bill argue that families already take extreme caution when their children ride these vehicles, and also say that the bill will actually cause more kids to suffer ATV injuries because they will be forced to ride on smaller vehicles. Bates said that he thinks the bill needs to undergo some changes to take into effect the use of ATVs as farm vehicles, but added that it was prompted by an upswing in ATV deaths in the past five years.
Comparing the dangers of ATV accidents with the benefits of ATVs as work and recreational vehicles is a difficult task to say the least, as the debate over the bills in these states reveal. Even the Consumer Product Safety Commission has recognized the popularity and work value of ATV vehicles, but this hasn't stopped the agency from preaching the necessity for proper safety and citing some important statistics.
According to statistics on its ATV Safety website, there have been nearly 6,500 deaths in ATV-related accidents between 1982 and 2004. ATV accidents led to 609 reported deaths in 2004 and 467 reported deaths in 2005. More than 136,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained during ATV accidents in 2004.
As for children killed in ATV accidents, a recent story in The Birmingham News states that one-third of people killed or injured in ATV accidents in the United States are under 16 years old. The story cited a Southeast Child Safety Institute study which randomly examined 19 child ATV deaths and found that 15 of those drivers were under the age of 15 years old. The three youngest child drivers to die were all age 11.
Ultimately, all of these statistics and the recent legislative debates in Nebraska, North Dakota and Oregon reveal the importance for states to continue or start addressing concerns about ATVs with proper discussions and laws that further promote safe riding for children and even adults! Just last week, a 23-year-old woman in Lucedale, Mississippi was killed when her all-terrain vehicle collided with another ATV that threw her into the path of an oncoming SUV.
It was unknown whether the victim, Jillian R. Howell, was wearing a helmet, but a trooper in a Press Register story said there is no Mississippi law requiring ATV riders or passengers to wear helmets; providing another example of the necessity for more discussion on increased ATV safety and regulations!