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Editorial: Tri-State's ATV safety record improves, but not enough

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

All-terrain vehicles are a significant recreational outlet in the Tri-State region, for good reason.

The wooded, hilly terrain is well-suited for adventure on ATVs, and West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio all offer trail systems where enthusiasts can enjoy the pastime.

But riding ATVs is also fraught with dangers if they are not used carefully. The good news is that a recent report suggests more people are being cautious. The continuing negative news is that far too many people, including children, still die in ATV-related accidents.

A positive trend of fewer children sustaining ATV-related injuries was reported recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency found that nonfatal injuries among children decreased from a peak of 67 per 100,000 children in 2004 to 42 per 100,000 children by 2010.

The reasons aren't clear, researchers said. But theories include less use of ATVs for economic reasons, better safety practices and new laws that require the use of helmets for riders under age 18.

Another positive trend is that deaths related to ATV use also appear to be decreasing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported in March that the death toll of 327 reported for 2011 -- the latest year available -- is by far the lowest preliminary number of reported fatalities in years. However, that number could increase by hundreds when the commission receives more coroners' and medical examiner reports.

Amid the positive trends are still some troubling signs. One is that the number of deaths from accidents on public roads -- where most ATV use is restricted -- have increased dramatically. Another is that almost half of the children under age 16 who died were 12 and under. Investigators also found that the vast majority of child deaths are on adult ATVs, which are bigger and more powerful than youth models. Those trends suggest that adults are not providing adequate supervision and not sufficiently looking out for children's safety.

For West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, the report also spells out that there is still much to be done. ATV-related deaths reported so far in West Virginia from 2008 to 2011 totaled 144, the highest number in the nation during that span. Kentucky ranked fourth highest, with 120 deaths in that period, while Ohio had 82, the seventh-highest number.

West Virginia has been working to improve the fatality and injury record. Jeffrey Lusk, director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, believes that stricter requirements for trail riders has made a difference. In addition, he told The Charleston Gazette, rangers have gone into schools to speak to thousands of children in recent years about ATV safety.

That effort should continue, as well as strict enforcement of ATV safety laws and a stepped-up campaign to reach parents about their responsibilities to keep themselves and their children safe when using ATVs. Obeying the laws and putting a greater emphasis on caution rather than adventure could help save lives.

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