Last Friday afternoon, 14-year-old Kyleigh Rampley of Cherokee County, Ala., had just finished her final class of seventh grade when she decided to go out for a ride on her ATV.
As she was driving with her 8-year-old cousin as a passenger, the ATV left the road, traveled up a utility pole guide wire and flipped over. Kyleigh suffered blunt chest trauma and died. Her cousin suffered a head injury, but survived.
Just yesterday, a 12-year-old boy died when the ATV on which he was a passenger, driven by another 12-year-old boy, crashed in Washington County, Ga. Five days before that, also in Georgia, 13-year-old Kaitlyn
Holland died after she flipped her ATV in the woods behind her family home. Her family found her body later in the day.
That’s three deaths in one week involving young children operating ATVs. Three deaths that might have been prevented had those states had higher ages for operating ATVs.
Frighteningly, these incidents are not unusual.
Each year, more than 24,000 children under age 16 are injured in ATV-related crashes. Thirty percent of ATV-related injuries and 13% of deaths involve minors. The hospitalization rate for kids is 30% higher than the rate for adults. The most common cause of death is traumatic brain injury.
In New York, it is currently legal for a child as young as 10 to complete a safety course and earn an ATV safety certificate.
As yourself this: Is it really wise and safe to allow a 10-year-old to operate a vehicle that can weigh hundreds of pounds and exceed 30 mph, and to allow them to do so with a passenger — just so they can experience the fun of riding an ATV?
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that children are “not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines.”
That’s why state lawmakers should quickly pass a bill (A0150/S2702) that would raise the minimum age of operation of an ATV from 10 to 14, and raise the age in which a certified rider can supervise a younger rider from 16 to 18.
It’s true that some ATV manufacturers have introduced features to make their vehicles safer for younger children, including a control that allows parents to limit the speed of an ATV and, on some smaller models, a tether that allows parents to walk behind an ATV and disable it if it exceeds the desired speed.
But that’s assuming close parental supervision. And none of those measures negates the danger of allowing a 10-year-old to operate these heavy and potentially dangerous motorized vehicles.
Some advocates say the minimum age of operation should be raised to even higher, to 16, the same minimum age for operation of a motorcycle. But 14 is a significant change that can probably get passed now while advocates continue to push for a higher minimum age.
This isn’t one of those laws that one could attribute to New York’s reputation as a “nanny state.”
It’s a common-sense child safety measure that recognizes the statistical safety data and conforms to the recommendations of those who understand the physiology of young children.
Get this law on the books now, and potentially save some lives.