How young is too young to ride an ATV? - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

How young is too young to ride an ATV?

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How young is too young to ride an ATV?

In 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says 327 Americans died and more than 100,000 were injured in ATV accidents. About a third of those riders were under the age of 16.

Just last month, a 16-year-old Hall County girl suffered a brain injury and an 11-year-old seriously injured a leg in separate ATV accidents.

So what age is appropriate to ride? We asked that question on our FOX 5 Facebook page and got a divided response.  

Some parents said their kids ride every day - - some of them as young as 3 or 4 years old. But other parents say the risks just aren't worth it.

Mike and Kristi Barnes are comfortable letting their first-grader, Jackson, go four-wheeling.

"We come out and have a blast. It gets us outdoors, and he's not sitting on the couch playing video games all day," said Mike Barnes.

The 6-year-old's parents said they take safety precautions.

"Of course, he'll wear a helmet and gloves and goggles. Pants, boots," said Mike Barnes.

Jackson attaches a lanyard to his wrist that shuts off the 4-wheeler if he falls off of it for any reason. He rides a smaller ATV, his parents ride in front and back of him, controlling his speed. When he's not with them, they ride full-throttle.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joshua Ratner says many kids - especially teenagers - are drawn by the speed and power of 4-wheelers.  

"But a fun afternoon out in the woods can very quickly turn to a nightmare," said Ratner.

Emma Motter has the scars to prove it. In August of 2011, when she was 11, she was driving an ATV on her great grandfather's farm in Lafayette, Ga.. Her little brother Luke was on the back. Neither of them was wearing a helmet.

"they had a path that they'd done 500 times around the pasture," said Dawn Motter, their mother.

Dawn Motter said that morning was her worst parenting moment: She didn't think about the mud, or the speed the kids were going as she and her husband turned to put the dogs inside.

"Turned our backs  for a minute and just heard the screams," Dawn Motter said.

After hitting a bump, Luke was thrown off the back of the ATV and cut his head. Emma was thrown forward, over the front of the ATV, as it rolled nose-first over her.

"I remember on the ground, and I was still, and I opened my eyes and I looked up and I saw the 4-wheeler going over me," said Emma Motter.

The vehicle's wooden toolbox smashed into Emma's right arm.

"It was totally numb, it was like my arm was just dangling there," said Emma Motter.

Dawn Motter said, "It was gut-wrenching. You don't, you can't even think.  You jump and you go."

Ratner said that the force of impact not only broke Emma's arm, it tore it wide open.

Emma's had 15 surgeries and came close to having her arm amputated. She's OK now. She no longer rides for fun. She spent weeks in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and missed a year of school. She's now back to playing basketball and doing gymnastics.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta says the parents of kids who do ride need to set clear safety rules:

No riding without a helmet.

No doubling up, or high speeds.

No riding on paved roads.


Most safety groups say kids say kids under 16 shouldn't be operating ATVs. Dr. Ratner says they don't have the upper body strength or physical control to prevent rollovers.

But the Barnes believe if they can teach Jackson to ride safely, here's no reason to make him wait.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says if you're going to ride ATVs, take a safety course to get the basics.

When asked about the "kill" switch that cuts off the engine of Jackson's ATV if he falls, Dr. Ratner said that most children are injured by what they hit, or how they land -- not whether the ATV keeps going.

The Barnes say they'll keep riding, and they don't mind sharing their story if it gets people talking about safety.

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