SALT LAKE CITY - Severe trauma to the head and spine resulting from all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents are increasing dramatically according to research released from the University of Utah Department of Neurosurgery. The research, to be published in the journal Neurosurgery, highlights the need for efforts to improve ATV stability, increase helmet use, and greater efforts to train riders in safe operation of the vehicles.
According to the research by neurosurgeons Joel MacDonald, MD and Michael Finn, MD, there were approximately 1,117,000 emergency room visits and 495 deaths due to ATV injuries nationwide in 2001, increases of 211 percent and 159 percent respectively over 1993. The estimated national costs of ATV-associated injuries are $3.24 billion annually.
While injuries due to accidents occur in all age groups, children and youths (under 20 years of age) are disproportionately affected, comprising 42 percent of the head and spine traumas in the study. "Studies show that the majority of children involved in ATV accidents are riding adult-sized vehicles", says Joel MacDonald, MD, neurosurgeon at the University of Utah. "Children are at increased risk because of their underdeveloped motor coordination and physical strength, less experience operating motor vehicles, poorer judgment, their risk-taking behavior, and lack of instruction."
Rollovers were the most common documented accident involving ATVs in the Utah study, followed by collisions with stationary objects or other vehicles. ATVs are unstable by design, with short wheelbases, a high ground clearance, and a high center of gravity. "Safe operation of an ATV requires leaning one's body weight into turns to shift the center of gravity to the inside of the turn", MacDonald continued. "This maneuver is less intuitive on a four-wheeled vehicle, which may give a false feeling of stability, than it is on a two-wheeled motorcycle or bicycle, where the critical need for balance is obvious." Children may be at additional risk for rollover-type mechanisms because they have less weight and strength to forcefully lean the vehicle into a turn, especially when operating an adult-sized vehicle.
There were 88,553 registered ATV's in Utah in 2006. While they are commonly used for farm and work activities, the research released today shows that severe injuries from work-related uses of ATV's are rare, less than one percent of injuries.