A 15-year-old Grand Rapids, Ohio, boy loses control of his all-terrain vehicle, strikes a concrete sewer pipe, and then careens into a nearby large tree. He is pronounced dead a short time later at Wood County Hospital.
In Portage, a 55-year-old woman lets her 5-year-old granddaughter operate the throttle of a 2008 Polaris Sportsman 400 HO, an ATV noted for its high speed and power. The excited child “guns” the throttle and the vehicle veers out of control, striking a nearby house and rolling over onto its side. Miraculously, the grandmother and granddaughter walk away with only minor injuries.
More than 100,000 all-terrain vehicle users are injured and hundreds are killed every year in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than one-third of those injured and killed are children under the age of 16.
“We see this every year,” Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshn said. “People go too fast, lose control, and fly off the vehicle — and they aren’t wearing a helmet.“
Many accidents involve adults who consume too much alcohol and then attempt to operate the vehicles, which can be very powerful and fast, he said.
“Young adults get carried away; 16, 17-year-olds think they’re invincible and take unnecessary risks,” Sheriff Wasylyshn said. “Those are the most common eeeeeeereasons for accidents. They’ll be driving in an unfamiliar area and not realize there’s a ditch.”
Sheriff Wasylyshn and several experienced drivers recommend people survey unfamiliar terrain before they start driving through it. The precautionary step lessens the chance of the driver accidentally striking a partially hidden object or ditch.
Five accidents involving ATVs have been reported in Wood County this year, slightly higher than normal, said Deputy Amy Taulker, who oversees the records department for the Wood County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 279 ATV-related deaths were reported in Ohio between 1982 and 2007. Eighty of those deaths involved children under the age of 16.
The commission is in the process of collecting data for 2008-2011.
Sheriff Wasylyshn said collecting accurate data about all ATV deaths and injuries is an impossible task. Many accidents occur on private properties and are never reported, he said.
Law enforcement divisions in Ohio don’t always maintain records the same way, said Kristen Castle, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
For example, some police departments lump all accident data together and don’t distinguish whether the incident involved a truck, motorcycle, or ATV, she said.
The Ohio State Patrol in 2013 started using a new crash report that indicates whether an accident involved an automobile or an ATV or snowmobile, Ms. Castle said. The problem is that the new reporting code doesn’t distinguish whether the accident involved a snowmobile or ATV.
According to the Ohio State Patrol, 28 “snowmobile/ATV” crashes have been reported in Ohio in 2013. A crash in Lucas County on May 4 injured two 24-year-olds.
Ohio doesn’t require ATV operators to be licensed, but a person must be at least 14 years old to drive on the highway, and must wear a helmet at all times.
Mark Myslinski, 39, of Toledo has driven ATVs since he was 11. The experienced driver offers many useful safety tips.
“Instead of starting off with a 400-horse power vehicle, they need to start with a smaller bike so that they can learn the fundamentals first,” he said. “A smaller bike allows you to practice your balance.”
Chase Lindecker, 17, of Lambertville recommends investing in a good helmet, riding boots, a chest protector, and even a neck brace, which offers a rider more protection if an accident does occur. The investment can be expensive, but it’s worth it, he said.
“A lot of people don’t want to spend a lot of money on a helmet, but you only have one head,” he said.
The Lindecker youth, who started driving all-terrain vehicles when he was 5, said he periodically takes bike safety classes to refresh his knowledge.
Doug Keller, owner of Off Road Customs, 223 W. Alexis Rd., says he’s seen first-hand what can happen when someone drives too fast or carelessly. His company repairs and sells parts and accessories for ATVs, snowmobiles, Jeeps, and trucks.
“I’ve seen a lot of wrecked vehicles,” Mr. Keller said.
Mr. Myslinski offers one last bit of advice: “You just have to be careful. Know your limits. When you’re off-road, speed doesn’t mean better.”
Interrupting, Mr. Keller adds: “Remember, trees don’t move.”