ATV Accidents: Special Dangers Facing Children in All-Terrain Vehicle Crash

ATV Accidents: Special Dangers Facing Children in All-Terrain Vehicle Crash

In our last post, we discussed Indiana House Bill 1200 and whether or not it will become law this year.  Known as the “Play for Kate Bill,” it will require any child riding or driving an ATV in the State of Indiana to wear a helmet.

Why the concern over kids and ATVs?  It’s because children face special dangers in an All-Terrain Vehicle.

What is an All-Terrain Vehicle?

An All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) is defined by the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America as a vehicle that is:

  • Motorized;
  • Designed to move on four wheels;
  • Has low-pressure tires;
  • Seat for the driver is straddled by the operator; and
  • Steering is done with handlebars, not a steering wheel.

There are two kinds:  (1) Type 1 ATVs, made for just the operator to ride; and (2) Type 2 ATVs, designed for a driver and a passenger (who sits right behind the driver).  Some are built bigger than others.  Some can go at higher speeds than others.

Regulated Differently Than Other Vehicles

Indiana and Illinois both regulate ATVs much differently than cars and trucks – and even motorcycles.  For instance, there is no minimum age limit in Illinois for anyone to operate an ATV.  There’s no need for a license to operate one, either – unless you are under the age of 14 years in Indiana and driving it without supervision.

Off-Roading in Indiana

In fact, the Indiana Division of Outdoor Recreation has an online map that highlights where in the State of Indiana it is legal to ride ATVs “off-road.”  In some parts of the state, ATVs are legal on county roads.

ATV Accidents Can Cause Severe Injuries and Can Be Fatal

ATV Accidents are serious and often deadly for anyone involved in an ATV crash.  We’ve discussed the risks of riding or driving an All-Terrain Vehicle here before.  See, for instance:

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (“CPSC”) tracks accident and injury reports involving All-Terrain Vehicles in the United States.   ATV accidents claim the lives of hundreds of adult victims each year.

When young children and teenagers hop aboard an All-Terrain Vehicle, things get even more dangerous.

Children and ATVs

We’ve known for many years now that All-Terrain Vehicles carry special risks for children.  It doesn’t matter if they are driving the ATV or if they are passengers, just along for the ride.

Kids can be seriously hurt in any ATV accident.

Back in January 2005, for example, CBS News reporter Tatiana Morales had a story, “ATVS: Too Dangerous for Kids.”  That was a dozen years ago.

The concerns addressed then still hold true today. Things like:

  • Kids driving ATVs that are too big for them to control, given their size and weight.
  • Children jumping onto an ATV without any kind of safety gear: no helmet, no gloves, nothing.
  • Some kids (and maybe their parents, too) considering the ATV as more of a toy than a motor vehicle.
  • Children not have any training before they drive off on an All-Terrain Vehicle.

Higher Risk of Pediatric Chest Injuries

Recently in Chicago, a new medical study was presented to the Radiological Society of North America.  In it, radiologists reported on findings that kids involved in ATV crashes are more likely to have serious chest injuries.

Their medical findings covered a variety of ATV accidents, those involving wrecks as well as rollovers and other kinds of ATV crashes.  The type of accident did not change their concern.  Pediatric chest injuries are a very real danger in an All-Terrain Vehicle accident.

From the study’s press release, study author Kelly N. Hagedorn, M.D., radiology resident at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston:

“The sheer incidence of chest injuries in pediatric patients evaluated after ATV accidents is rather alarming and not necessarily the type of injuries patients and their families give much forethought to when considering the risks of ATV use.”

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Head Injuries Account for Most ATV Deaths

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long published its warnings concerning children and All-Terrain Vehicles.  According to the AAP, most fatalities among children related to ATV accidents are deaths caused by traumatic brain injuries.

Their research into ATV accidents involving victims under the age of 18 years has led these doctors to issue the following recommendations:

  1. No child under the age of 16 years should be allowed to use an ATV;
  2. Any child operating an ATV should be licensed to do so;
  3. No ATV should be allowed on any public roadway (street, highway);
  4. Passengers should never be allowed on an ATV;
  5. No one should be allowed to operate an ATV under the influence of alcohol; and
  6. No one should be allowed to operate an ATV after dark (between sundown and sunrise).

The pediatrians are so serious about the dangers of ATVs that they want their group recommendations to be considered by state legislators as bases for new state safety laws.   (These recommendations are included in a model bill drafted for lawmakers to use.)

Safety Guidelines for Children and ATVs

In May 2016, the CPSC issued a new warning to the public about the risk of injury to children who ride on All-Terrain Vehicles.  This focused upon children riding or operating adult-sized ATVs.

From CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye:

“Almost every day I read ATV death reports – many of them involving children.  As a parent, I understand the desire to have fun with your kids, but kids don’t have the physical or cognitive skills needed to stay safe on these vehicles. Keep your children off of our tragedy list—keep kids off adult ATVs.”

CPSC Tips for Kids and ATVs:

  1. Never let children ride ATVs that are meant for adults.
  2. Make sure children younger than 16 operate only youth model ATVs appropriate for their age.
  3. Never let children younger than 6 on an ATV.
  4. Make sure children wear a helmet and other protective gear that fits appropriately.

For more information on kids and ATVs, check out the Facebook Group Concerned Families for ATV Safety.


Children under the age of 18 years may be tempted to enjoy riding an All-Terrain Vehicle here in Indiana and Illinois.  However, they do so with a high risk of accident and serious injury.  Please be aware of the dangers of kids and ATVs.  Let’s be careful out there!

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