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All-Terrain Vehicles Are Mighty Machines

There’s no doubt about it — ATVs are mighty machines. They can weigh up to 273 kg (600 lbs) and reach speeds of over 90 km/hour. ATVs can be difficult to control and require complex skills to drive safely. Most ATVs are designed to carry only one person and are not suitable for carrying passengers. Carrying passengers on an ATV designed for one rider can make it harder for the driver to stay in control of the vehicle.

As ATVs gain in popularity, the rate of injuries in children and youth has reached an all-time high. The number of ATV-related hospitalizations in children and youth has increased significantly in Canada since 1996, making ATV-related injuries the second most common cause of severe injuries in sports and recreation, after cycling.

Loss of control, collisions or rollovers can happen very quickly and can result in serious injuries. In recent years, children have been injured and even killed as passengers and drivers of ATVs. Typical ATV-related injuries include head trauma, spinal and abdominal trauma and fractures.

If a 12-year old is too young too drive a car, then why would it make sense for him to be operating an ATV? ATVs are not designed for children and the proof is before us in the number of injuries.

In the last decade, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has admitted more than 130 patients with ATV-related injuries, averaging about one per month. Among those injured, the average age was 13 years of age, with 3 times as many males as females being injured, and included both drivers and passengers on ATVs.

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children under 16 years of age should not operate ATVs. Children under 16 do not have the physical size, strength, and coordination to safely operate an ATV. As well, children under 16 have not yet fully developed their ability to judge possible hazards and to anticipate the possible consequences of their actions — important skills required to use an ATV safely.

What is the law?

Currently in Ontario, there is no law defining a minimum age for ATV drivers. According to the law, a child under 12 is allowed to ride ATVs under close adult supervision on private property. On public property, a child must be 12 or older to ride an ATV. Helmets are mandatory for all riders of ATVs under Ontario law.¹ More than 60% of the patients seen for an ATV-related injury in Canada were not wearing a helmet.²

Consider this…

ATVs are powerful motorized vehicles. While they are designed for off-road use, ATVs require the same skills and judgment to operate as motorcycles and cars. Yet, youth must be 16 and older and require testing and licensing before they can operate cars and motorcycles.

“Most children are injured while operating an ATV designed for adult use. Increased awareness amongst children, youth and parents about the risk of injuries can certainly go a long way in preventing these devastating injuries,” notes Dr. David Creery.

What can parents do?

  • If you have children less than 16 years of age, do not let them drive an ATV.
  • Teach your children that it is unsafe at any age to ride as a passenger on an ATV designed for one rider.
  • For children over 16 years of age, teach them that they must wear a certified ATV or motorcycle helmet every time they ride.
  • Riders should also wear eye protection, long sleeved pants and shirt, and gloves each time they ride.
  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and read the warning labels to reduce the risk of injury from ATV use.
¹ Ministry of Transportation Off–Road Vehicles Act
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