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Pediatricians want minimum age for ATV operators

The Canadian Paediatric Society says children shouldn’t be allowed to drive all-terrain vehicles unless they are 16 years or older.

Updating its previous policy on ATVs, the society announced Aug. 30 it is adopting the same position as numerous health and safety organizations in North America. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Surgeons and Safe Kids Canada all want a minimum age of 16.

“Children and youth younger than 16 years of age should not operate an ATV,” the society’s injury prevention committee said in its policy statement.

Even though the ATV industry has introduced smaller models with less horsepower for younger riders, the pediatricians said there is limited evidence that youth models reduce injury.

“This recommendation must apply to all vehicle sizes, including youth models.”

The society also said helmet use should be compulsory with no exceptions.

The pediatricians said an average of 447 children younger than 15 have been hospitalized for ATV injuries in Canada annually over the past five years.

An average of 179 Canadians died each year from ATV and off road vehicle injuries from 2003-07. Forty percent were younger than 20.

The society attributed the high rates of injuries and deaths among youths to a number of factors, including an inclination to take foolish risks.

“Inexperience, inadequate physical size and strength, immature motor and cognitive development and tending to engage in risk-taking behaviours all compound injury risks for children and youth operating ATVs,” the pediatricians stated.

Jeff Mohr, president of the ATV Association of British Columbia, said he has no problem with mandatory helmet use when riding ATVs.

However, he balked at legislating a minimum age of 16.

“We prefer to do education over legislation,” said Mohr.

“To just say that you can’t ride until you’re 16 basically eliminates a major part of family activities that most of us (ATV groups) are promoting.”

Mohr said it’s difficult to pin down what causes ATV accidents because certain injuries could be related to unfamiliarity with the machine or lack of a helmet. However, he disagreed with the argument that ATVs are disproportionally more dangerous than other activities.

“If you take cyclists and cycling, you’ll probably find just as many injuries.”

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