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All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and Injuries

ATVs have become very popular over the past several years. They are used for recreation, competition racing, and also as work tools, primarily in the farming industry.

They are heavy pieces of equipment, weighing up to 600 pounds. They also have a high center of gravity—which could allow them to rollover more easily than other vehicles. They often have poor or no suspension systems—so they have a “bouncier” less controlled ride. They usually have no rear wheel differential—so the wheels turn at the same speed and riders need to lean as they turn to avoid rolling over.

They can be quite powerful, traveling up to 55 miles per hour. Riding ATVs requires some skill as well as physical strength, coordination and judgment.

Persons at Greatest Risk of Injury

National studies have found that people at greatest risk of injury are:

  1. Younger riders, under 16 years of age
  2. Males
  3. People riding 3-wheelers. Manufacturing of 3-wheelers was banned in 1988, but existing 3-wheelers were not recalled and are legal to ride.
  4. Persons with less than a year of riding experience 
  5. Riders of ATVs with engine size greater than 90cc

The most common injuries suffered by ATV riders are soft tissue injuries (scrapes, cuts, and bruises), extremity fractures, and central nervous system injuries (brain and spinal cord injuries).

Oklahoma Study Results

In Oklahoma, from 1992-2002, a total of 391 persons were hospitalized as a result of an injury from riding an ATV, including 38 persons who died of a head injury. Although head injuries are the leading cause of death for ATV riders, 24 additional persons had died from another type of injury such as asphyxia or chest injury. Almost half of the people who died were less than 16 years of age.

The average number of injuries tripled over the 11-year time period, with an average of 23 injuries per year before 1998 to an average of 69 injuries per year in 2001 and 2002. Among all injured ATV riders, ages ranged from 3 years to 87 years of age; the median (or middle) age was 17 years. The highest rates of injury were among males 5-24 years of age.

About one-third of the crashes in the Oklahoma study involved a collision with a fixed or moving object. The most common objects hit were fences, trees/stumps, utility poles, hay bales, and other ATVs. Almost 40 percent of crashes involved a rollover of the ATV. Eight percent of riders had been using alcohol, including 2 people under the age of 21. More than three-fourths of the incidents occurred between April and October. Among persons who survived, the average hospital stay was 6 days. Hospital stays for traumatic brain injuries ranged from 1 to 106 days.

Helmet Use

The Oklahoma study found that only 6 percent of injured persons were wearing a helmet. None of the persons who died were wearing a helmet. A Consumer Product Safety Commission study has shown that wearing helmets reduce deaths by 42 percent and nonfatal head injuries by 64 percent. If all the injured persons in the Oklahoma study had been wearing a helmet, 199 nonfatal injuries may have been prevented, and 16 fatal brain injuries may have been prevented.

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