UIHC officials aim to increase ATV safety

BY ZACHARY POUND | JULY 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Officials at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics are taking measures to promote safety standards for operating all-terrain vehicles as accident rates continue to climb for increasingly popular machine.

“ATVs are becoming heavier and faster,” Charles Jennissen, the director of pediatric emergency medicine at the UI Hospital and Clinics. “And riders are putting themselves into situations on these machines that they are not able to handle.”

The UIHC has seen more than 200 ATV-related deaths since 2002, said Kristel Wetjen, a pediatric trauma-nurse coordinator at UIHC.

Each year, she said, officials estimate that approximately 500 deaths and 1.1 million emergency-room visits occur nationwide because of these accidents.

And accidents in Iowa continue.

On Tuesday, 10-year-old Bluegrass, Iowa, boy was killed in an accident when his ATV flipped over on him. And a 16-year-old from Brooklyn, Iowa, died on June 25 in a similar incident.

“One out of every three ATV accidents involves a child under 16 who was operating it,” Wetjen said. “We hold assemblies at middle schools to teach the kids there about the safety issues of riding ATVs.”

The school visits are made possible by a $167,000 grant from Kohl’s as part of its Keeping Kids Safe program. The physicians at the UI Children’s Hospital said they hope education on proper safety guidelines and awareness of ATV dangers will cause a decrease in the number of accidents and deaths.

Wetjen said the most common injuries are beheadings and abdominal injuries from the machine rolling onto the driver. There are three main causes of accidents, she said: riders not wearing a helmet, more than one person riding the vehicle, and people operating ATVs that are too large for them.

ATV engines are made to fit the type of rider and type of riding. Vehicles for children as young as six are made with smaller engines — 70 cubic centimeters or less — which can reach a maximum speed of 15 mph.

Adults, however, can ride ATVs with engine capacities of 800 cubic centimeters and top speeds of 85 mph. The current volume is an upgrade from the average engine size available in years past.

The increase in injuries in the past 15 years is related to the growing popularity of the vehicles, Jennissen said.

And Jennissen, whose work involves research on ATV-injury prevention, said adults could be at a greater risk than years before.

“We’ve actually seen child accident and deaths level off but seen an increase in adults getting hurt or killed,” he said.

Only a few stores in Iowa City sell the vehicles. Don’s Honda, 537 Highway 1 W., has been selling ATVs and other motor vehicles for 33 years.

Don’s Honda sales manager Michael Zeman said the manufacturers of the ATVs — such as Honda and Polaris — offer a four- to six-hour free safety training class to provide operating and safety instructions for buyers.

But most of the buyers don’t go through with the safety programs, Zeman said, because they have riding experience or do not have the time.

“Most of the people who are buying ATVs are already owners of one and just getting a new one,” Zeman said. “Most of the people buying them use it for agricultural purposes and have been riding ATVs for many years.”

Jennissen said the injuries that are continually seen at the UIHC are tough to call recreational. Many accidents are farm-related, he said, so determining if harm was caused by recreation or work can be difficult.

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