SALT LAKE CITY — Between 2019 and 2020, Primary Children's Hospital saw a 34% increase in all-terrain vehicle accidents involving children in the state of Utah. This year those numbers may be even higher.
Utah has more traumatic brain injuries among children than any other state in the country, with a large percentage of those injuries coming from ATV accidents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Utah Department of Health says children are 1,000 times more likely to be injured riding on an ATV than in a car.
Experts from the hospital and the Utah Department of Natural Resources advised Utah families in a press conference Thursday that they can stay safe this Fourth of July weekend and summer by following these safety guidelines when riding ATVs:
- Educate yourself and your kids about ATVs and ATV safety in person or online using the Utah OHV Safety Education Course.
- Ensure that children under the age of 16 have received the required specialized training.
- Match the ATV's size and horsepower with the rider's size and experience level.
- Wear appropriate protective gear, such as full-face helmets, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boot and goggles.
- Replace helmets if they are expired or have been in a crash.
- Ensure that helmets fit properly as children grow.
- Wear a seat belt.
- Make sure children have adult supervision while riding.
- Ensure that the riders have the maturity and common sense to operate a powerful vehicle.
- Know the route you are going to travel beforehand.
- Stick to paved roads.
- Bring a satellite phone in case of emergency.
- Don't leave your keys in your vehicle unattended.
- Don't ride beyond your skill level.
- Lead by example
"Families can turn this around," said Jessica Strong, community health manager at Primary Children's Hospital. "Injury prevention is something we can all do. And when we prevent injuries, we can help children achieve their full potential."
Part of the reason for the increase in injury is the uptick in ATV vehicle registrations, meaning that there are a large amount of new riders handling these vehicles. In the last year alone, there was a 7,000 machine increase in the state of Utah, culminating in over 214,000 registered vehicles, explained Utah Division of Parks and Recreation off-highway vehicle program coordinator Chris Haller.
"Those (new riders) should be concerned about their own safety," he said. "It takes 8 precious seconds to make an investment in their life. Three seconds of clicking a seat belt, and five of buckling a helmet."
A Las Vegas family who requested their last name not be included spoke about their 11-year-old daughter Emelia's recent RZR accident that resulted in the child being pinned under the vehicle, flown to a hospital and put on life support.
"Through everything that she went through, including three cardiac arrests, she shouldn't be alive today. She truly is our miracle," her mother, Jessica, said.
After extensive rehab, Emelia is back to her old self, largely because she was wearing a helmet and because someone nearby had a satellite phone to call for help. Her parents are grateful that they can share a happy story, but admit that they should have been more aware.
"This is an activity that we had done many, many times. And we are still proponents of having fun on these vehicles," said Emilia's father, Beau.