Be smart and safe when riding ATVs

Be smart and safe when riding ATVs

It’s kind of fun, and even cool, to rev that engine, then go zipping across the terrain.

ATVs allow us a freedom that cars just do not, but that freedom comes at a cost. Cars are bigger, safer and, for the most part, are more stable.

A couple of years ago, I was called to a trauma. Over my pager, I could see that there were two children that were severely injured. This is unusual. It is rare to get two children that need my care at the same time.

When I got to the trauma room, I found that the 4-year-old was multiply injured. He required a breathing machine for his bruised lungs and broken ribs. He required fluid and blood to correct his low blood pressure.

The 6-year-old, who was driving the ATV with the 4-year-old on the back, was not severely injured. The parents allowed the 6-year-old to drive the ATV because it was “fun.”

Many people look at ATVs like toys. Although ATVs can be a blast to ride, they are not toys. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 93,000 Americans were injured on ATVs in 2014. During the past two years, we have admitted more than 400 patients (between St. Mary’s Medical Center and Cabell Huntington Hospital) who were injured while riding ATVs. More than one-third of our patients were intoxicated or high, or both.

Thankfully, we have seen only four deaths, but any preventable death is a tragedy. No one should die from riding an ATV.

Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Wear a helmet;
  • Do not operate an ATV when you have had mind-altering substances;
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that NO child under the age of 16 operate an ATV;
  • Wear protective gear;
  • Do not operate ATVs on the highways or roadways; the cars simply cannot see you;
  • ATVs that are designed to carry one person should only carry one person; tipping over in an ATV can be deadly;
  • Always have some way to contact someone if something happens. Being stuck in a ravine for hours with no way to contact anyone can put your life in danger; and
  • Do not ride alone.

Let’s use our brains to protect our bodies. Let’s be safe.


This article was co-written with Frank Fofie, a third-year medical student at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
This article originally appeared in the April 10, 2016, edition of
The Herald-Dispatch.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD, FACS, FCCM

Dr. Thompson is an associate professor with the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, chief of trauma services for Marshall Surgery and an experienced, board-certified trauma surgeon.

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