Law Restricting Use of Off-Road-Vehicles by Young Drivers Helps to Curb Injury Rates, Researchers Say

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Although off-road-vehicles (ORVs), including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), bear a striking resemblance to motorized toy cars, they are not intended for all ages — their high centers of gravity and capability for high speeds make them unstable and unsafe for children. Despite the dangers, children still operate these vehicles, often with disastrous results.

In response to growing rates of injuries and hospitalizations among children riding ORVs, a 2010 law passed in Massachusetts restricted their use to those ages 14 and older. In a recent study published in the October issue of Pediatrics, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that there were significant reductions in both emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admissions resulting from ORV injuries in the three years after the law was enacted. Given that this is the first law of its kind, the results provide important insight for the design of future legislation.

Here are five things to know about the study:

1. Over the past three decades, there have been more than 3,000 ORV-related childhood fatalities in the U.S. – half in 12- to 15-year olds. Between 2001 and 2010, there were more than 350,000 emergency department visits for those under 15.

2. Enacted in 2010, “Sean’s Law” — named for Sean Kearney, an 8-year-old who died after an ORV he was riding overturned on him — banned ORV operation by anyone under the age of 14, except in rare cases with direct supervision by an adult, and required children 14 to 17 years old to take education and training classes and be supervised by an adult when riding an ORV. “No other legislation to date has restrictions as tight as those in Massachusetts,” says lead and corresponding author Michael Flaherty, DO, of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC).

3. To investigate whether rates of both ED visits and hospital admissions resulting from ORV injuries have gone down since the law was introduced, Flaherty and a team of investigators from MGHfC analyzed data for four age categories — ages 9 and under, 10 to 13, 14 to 17, and for purposes of comparison, adults ages 25 to 34.

4. They found that the rate of hospitalizations for all those 17 and under dropped 41 percent after the law’s implementation, while the 25-to-34-year comparison group had a drop of 26 percent.

5. “The results of our study indicate that comprehensive laws that include age restrictions can in fact decrease the numbers of pediatric injuries that result from ATV crashes,” says senior author Peter Masiakos, MS, MD, of the MGHfC Department of Pediatric Surgery. However, improvements are still needed. “We have more room to go in strengthening our state law,” adds Masiakos. “Our results suggest the tighter age restrictions may be even more beneficial.”

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