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The number of children hospitalized for injuries related to all-terrain vehicles in the United States jumped 150 percent from 1999 to 2006, according to an analysis of federal inpatient data released yesterday.
The Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that 4,039 kids were hospitalized for ATV-related injuries in 2006, up from 1,618 in 1999. Researchers used inpatient data on kids age 0 to 17 from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Hospitalizations increased among kids of all ages, both girls and boys, and in every region of the country, the study found. Pediatric patients with traumatic brain injuries are also on the rise, representing 27.7 percent of ATV-related hospitalizations in 1997 and 31.7 percent in 2006.
Although in-hospital deaths related to ATV injuries were rare, averaging less than 1 percent of hospitalizations, 91.5 percent of children who died had suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Studies have shown that wearing helmets can reduce traumatic brain injuries, but "helmet use rates are abysmally low, ranging from 5 percent to 50 percent," the report said. Many states require ATV riders to wear helmets; California requires helmets only on public land.
"ATVs are inherently dangerous to children because of the factors, such as large engines, heavy vehicle weight, and poor stability, due to high centers of gravity and the use of low pressure, flotation tires," the report's authors, Stephen M. Bowman and Mary E. Aitken, wrote in the Journal of Trauma.
Although adult-sized ATVs are labeled as inappropriate for children under 16 years old, reports show that many kids may be riding the stout, four-wheeled vehicles anyway.
In undercover inspections of ATV dealers since 1998, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has found dwindling compliance with age recommendations. The commission, in a report by the Government Accountability Office, said compliance fell from 85 percent in 1999 to 63 percent in 2007. The drop follows the 1998 expiration of an industry-wide agreement to improve safety measures and set age limits.
In its own undercover inspection in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that seven of 10 dealers its staff visited were willing to sell adult-sized vehicles for use by a 12- or 13-year-old child.
According to yesterday's report, boys age 15 to 17 had the highest rates of hospitalization for ATV-related injuries. Still, researchers counted 552 hospitalizations among boys and girls under age 5 from 1997 to 2006.
From 1982 to 2008, there were at least 516 deaths in California related to ATVs – more than in any other state, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Kids under 16 accounted for 95 of the fatalities in the state and 27 percent of all ATV-related deaths nationwide [PDF]. Overall, the figures are certainly higher because reporting since 2006 is ongoing, and not all deaths are reported.
Still, fatalities have not climbed nearly as rapidly as the number of ATVs in use. Nationwide, the estimated number of ATV-related deaths from 1985 to 2007 jumped more than 176 percent, from 295 to 816, according to the commission. The number of ATVs in use spiked 2,275 percent during the same period – from 400,000 to 9.1 million.