February 15, 2005
Severe injuries often accompany ATV accidents
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently reported a 10 percent rise in injuries related to all-terrain vehicles, Dr. Michael Winkelmann of Madison wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“It seems like every month I have at least one patient who has had an ATV accident,” said the physical medicine physician at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson.
Dr. Winkelmann said Methodist admitted four such victims in January—three with spinal cord injuries and one with a brain injury. As is the trend, all four were teenagers.
“They are usually younger individuals who have a lack of respect for the dangers of these vehicles,” he said. “I’ve seen so many injuries with absolutely dismal outcomes, I won’t let my kids on a four-wheeler.”
Liz Moorehead of Pascagoula now wishes she had known enough to enforce the same rule for her children. Maybe then she could have prevented the ATV accident that nearly killed her 19-year-old son Matt, a back-up quarterback for Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston.
“At first, he was given a 2 percent chance of survival,” she said. “His youth, excellent physical condition and his faith in God have a lot to do with him still being here.”
Moorehead said Matt had been riding his own ATV since age 12, and he was never reckless. But on the night of Nov. 19, he was taking part in what the ATV industry calls “warned-against behaviors”—he was driving down a dark asphalt road without a helmet.
“One thing I’ve learned is every accident in life could be avoided because it usually involves a mistake in judgment,” said his mom. But she adds that her son ultimately fell victim to being “too nice a boy.”
After spending the day readying a Greene County hunting camp for the opening of deer season, Matt obligingly drove a friend’s winch-equipped ATV back to camp headquarters for him. “He was not familiar with riding an ATV with a winch, and he didn’t know to make sure the winch was locked into place,” his mom said. As he drove down the road, the winch cable locked up one of the ATV’s wheels, pitching Matt headfirst onto the asphalt. The impact left him with a severe brain injury.
Life-saving brain surgery helped Matt escape the fate of the 5,791 people (178 of them Mississippians) who were reported killed in ATV accidents from January 1, 1982 to Dec. 31, 2003. But he did not get off lightly. He now faces months of therapy. “The doctors are very optimistic about Matt’s recovery, but time will tell,” said his mom. “The brain is a miraculous thing and it’s amazing the recovery that can be done. But it’s a slow process.”
At Methodist, Matt has been working with a staff that is particularly familiar with the plight of people injured on ATVs. Since 2000, a dozen patients with ATV-related spinal cord injuries and an untold number with ATV-related brain injuries have rehabbed at Methodist. According to Mississippi State Department of Health statistics, there were 31 ATV-related brain or spinal cord injuries in the state in 2003 and 15 in 2004.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 125,500 ATV-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms in 2003, an increase of about 10 percent over the previous year. About 31 percent of the injured were under age 16, an alarming stat that has several consumer groups advocating tough laws for ATV users.
Matt’s family is among those joining the chorus. “Helmets should be a requirement (for ATV users)—no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Matt’s grandmother Jimmie Hanning of Pascagoula.
“There should be an age limit, too,” said his mom. “And when you get an ATV, you should be certified and go through a class once a year for safety. I also don’t think you should be on an ATV on the road. I think you should be in the woods.”
Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, Methodist’s statewide injury prevention program, said many ATV sellers now offer safety education classes and she urges consumers to take advantage of the courses.
She also recommends following the “ATV Golden Rules,” a set of guidelines from the ATV Safety Institute.
The rules are:
- Always wear a helmet and other protective gear.
- Never ride on public roads.
- Never ride under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- Never carry a passenger on a single-rider vehicle.
- Ride an ATV that’s right for your age—under 70cc for ages 6 and under, 70cc to 90cc for ages 12 and older and over 90cc for ages 16 and older.
- Supervise riders younger than 16.
- Ride only on designated trails at a safe speed.
- Take an ATV RiderCourse; call toll-free 1-800-887-2887 for information on available classes.