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ATVs more deadly than motorcycles

People are far more likely to die after ATV accidents than after motorcycle accidents, trauma surgeons and public health researchers said.
/ Source: Reuters

If you think an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, is safer than a motorcycle, think again. People are far more likely to die after ATV accidents than after motorcycle accidents, trauma surgeons and public health researchers said today at the annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons.

They had information from a national trauma bank on nearly 60,000 accidents that occurred between 2002 and 2006 (13,749 from off-road motorcycle riding and 44,509 from ATV mishaps).

In a presentation this morning, the researchers said that even when the severity of injuries was the same, the patients who had been riding ATVs were 50 percent more likely to die, and 50 percent more likely to need treatment in an intensive care unit and mechanical ventilation, compared to the motorcycle riders.

There are somewhere between 800 and 900 deaths due to ATV accidents each year, according to, a government web site.

Even when both types of patients were wearing helmets, ATV riders did much worse than motorcycle riders, the research team found.

Dr. Adil Haider, a surgeon from the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgery Trials and Outcomes Research in Baltimore, Maryland, who headed the study, said he and his colleagues don't know yet why the ATV riders are more at risk than the motorcyclists.

"We think there are much more energy transfers when an ATV turns over, but we can't tell whether that is because of the stability of the vehicle or the weight of the vehicle as it rolls over on a rider," he said in a statement prepared before the presentation.

Haider said the study results are a warning for parents, lawmakers, and teachers - and for ATV dealers and manufacturers, too. People may think that ATVs are less dangerous than motorcycles because they have four wheels. But really, the ATVs are probably more dangerous because the injuries people have after accidents are more deadly.

In Massachusetts, legislators are one step ahead. Just a few days ago, on October 1st, a law took effect that bans kids under 14 from operating ATVs in that state. The new law was spurred by the family of 8-year-old Sean Kearney of Plymouth, who was killed four years ago while riding on an ATV driven by a playmate.

When a similar ban was passed in Canada, ATV-related visits to emergency rooms fell by half, doctors told the Boston Globe earlier this week.

ATV dealers often try to sell parents on larger vehicles their children will grow into, co-investigator Dr. Stephen Bowman, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, said in a statement.

"You go to a dealer and say, 'I want to buy my nine-year-old a small ATV.' But the dealer will try to sell you an ATV big enough for a 13-year-old. The problem is that smaller children end up using ATVs that have a lot of power and a significant amount of weight that could cause more serious injuries if they have an accident."