State Laws Curb Kids' Injuries Tied to Off-Road Vehicles

From - September 11, 2017

State Laws Curb Kids' Injuries Tied to Off-Road Vehicles

MONDAY, Sept. 11, 2017 -- A strict new law on the use of off-road vehicles by children in Massachusetts is likely behind a drop in related ER visits by kids, a new study says.

One type of off-road vehicle, the all-terrain vehicle (ATV), has been involved in more than 3,000 child deaths in the United States over the past three decades, with 12- to 15-year-olds accounting for more than half of those deaths, researchers noted.

ATVs "have a high center of gravity and they are not meant for small children to maneuver them," explained Dr. Michael Flaherty, one of the study's authors.

"Children have a tendency to lose control when they are driving them, and they can also tip over, causing crush injuries and death in children," he said. Flaherty is a pediatric critical care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

In 2010, Massachusetts enacted "Sean's Law" to honor the death of 8-year-old Sean Kearney killed on such a vehicle four years earlier.

The law banned children ages 13 and younger from riding on an off-road vehicle on public or private property, except in rare cases with direct supervision by an adult.

Older children, ages 14 to 17 years old, were also required to take education and training classes and be supervised by an adult when riding an off-road vehicle.

For all children, the law required helmets, limited the vehicle's engine size, banned driving while under the influence of alcohol, and required all vehicles to be registered with the state.

The study looked at nine years before the law was passed, as well as three years after. Flaherty and his team compared emergency department visits and hospitalizations for those 17 and under to adults between the ages of 25 and 34 to get a better idea of what effect the law was having on young people.

The team found that ER visits dropped by a third for children under 9 years old, and visits for 10- to 13-year-olds dropped by half. There was also an almost 40 percent decline in ER visits for 14- to 17-year-olds after the law was enacted, the study found.

In comparison, during the study period, there was no significant drop in emergency room visits for young adults using off-road vehicles.

The study also found that hospitalizations related to off-road vehicle use dropped by 41 percent for kids 17 and under after the law began. For young adults, hospitalizations related to the vehicles dropped by 26 percent, the study showed.

"In general, there is a science to injury prevention that we have known for years, and it's actually true for all public health issues: It is that policy works," said Dr. Gary Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance.

"Redesign of products and environments also work. They work much better than just education alone," he said.

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