(Reuters Health) - Restricting use of off-road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), for younger children and teens may help curb the number of youth who get seriously injured in crashes, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers examined data on youth who received emergency treatment for injuries in off-road vehicles (ORV) in Massachusetts before and after a 2010 state law banning kids under 14 from riding without adult supervision and requiring older teens to take driving classes.
Emergency room visit rates for kids age 10 to 13 with ORV injuries fell by half in the three years after the law took effect, compared with the nine years before, the study found. Emergency room visits also dropped by 33 percent for children age 9 and under, and by 39 percent for teens 14 to 17.
“Our study brings renewed hope that legislation, when done well, can be another tool to help save children’s lives when it comes to off-road vehicles designed for adults,” said lead study author Dr. Michael Flaherty of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents not let children under 16 ride off-road vehicles both because their bodies may lack muscle strength and coordination and to drive safely and because they may not have the maturity and impulse control to make smart decisions behind the wheel.
Massachusetts passed “Sean’s Law” in 2010 in honor of 8-year-old Sean Kearney, who died when an ATV he was riding overturned on him.
In addition to restricting use by children under 14, the legislation also limited the types of vehicles kids could ride, required the vehicles to be registered with the state and increased penalties for adults who let kids ride unsupervised.
There were 3,638 emergency department discharges and 481 inpatient discharges of children who suffered injuries related to off-road vehicles during the study period, from 2002 to 2013.
Overall, inpatient discharges declined by 41 percent for kids 17 and under after the state ORV law took effect, researchers report in Pediatrics.
Among teens 14 to 17 years old, injury rates dropped to about 32 for every 100,000 people after the law took effect from about 52 per 100,000 before.
For kids 13 and under, injury rates dropped to about 8 for every 100,000 people from 12 per 100,000 before the law took effect.
There wasn’t a significant drop in emergency discharges for older riders, ages 25 to 34, after the law restricting use by children and teens took effect, the study also found. Injury rates for these older riders remained stable at about 30 for every 100,000 people.
While the study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove that age restrictions directly caused a drop in child injuries, the absence of a meaningful shift in discharges for older riders suggests the state law had the intended effect and protected kids, the authors conclude.
Researchers also lacked data on how much time kids spent as riders or passengers on off-road vehicles, making it impossible to determine how usage rates might have influenced injury rates.
The safest choice for parents is to keep kids away from these vehicles altogether, said David Schwebel, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved in the study.
But if children are going to ride, there are safety precautions that can minimize the injury risk, Schwebel said by email.
“Helmets reduce the risk of injury, but they do not prevent all injuries,” Schwebel said.
“Driving more slowly helps, so giving kids less powerful vehicles will reduce injury risk,” Schwebel added. “Children should also never drive on public highways, as handling traffic adds substantial complexity and risk.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2wVrqgo Pediatrics, online September 11, 2017.