All-Terrain Vehicle Risks: What Every Parent Should Know

The best way to to treat the increasing incidence of ATV accidents is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Dr. Bindi Naik-Mathuria, medical director of the trauma program at Texas Children’s Hospital

Many may remember six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, and how she severed her spine in an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) accident. The 41-year-old swimmer was seriously injured. I want to remind parents of the potential dangers of allowing your child to operate the unpredictable vehicle that led to the Olympian’s life-altering incident.

In the past few years, Texas Children’s Hospital’s Trauma Center has seen a rise in pediatric patients receiving care for injuries related to ATV/open moving vehicle accidents. In fact, in the last two years alone, the hospital has cared for approximately 75 children who were injured in ATV accidents. These children faced facial injuries, brain injuries, orthopedic injuries and injuries to internal organs. Although we are a Level 1 pediatric trauma center and able to provide the best care to those patients who have experienced severe and life-threatening injuries, we believe the best way to treat accidents such as those related to ATVs, is to avoid them from ever occurring in the first place.

I want to help parents know their role in protecting their children from the extreme dangers these vehicles can pose and ensuring they follow the proper safety precautions people of all ages need to take before driving or riding in ATVs. As much fun as your child may have on this type of vehicle, ATVs are not toys and should be treated as the powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles they are. It is important to remember that ATVs can travel at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour and can weigh in excess of 700 pounds. Before allowing your child to ride in these heavy and speedy vehicles, remember how easily they can roll and tip over. ATVs are very unpredictable in nature in off-road conditions, making training and proper use essential. Drivers with formal, hands-on ATV training have a lower injury risk than drivers with no formal training.

Keep your child safe with these ATV safety must-dos:

Protective gear:

  • Before forgetting that essential helmet, know the majority of ATV injuries are head injuries. By wearing a helmet, you have the power to reduce the severity of these injuries.
  • Wearing over-the-ankle boots, goggles, gloves, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt can protect against cuts, abrasions and other injuries from rocks, trees and other debris.


  • Don’t walk away once your child is all covered up and ready. Regardless of your child’s age or experience on open vehicles, no one should ever operate a vehicle alone or without supervision.

Occupancy and size:

  • Don’t get too carried away, though. Supervision should occur from outside of the ATV. The majority of ATVs are designed to carry only one person.
  • Drivers must be able to shift their weight freely in all directions, depending on the situation and terrain, and a passenger would make it difficult for the driver to control their vehicle.
  • Children younger than 16 years of age should never be allowed to ride or operate an adult ATV.

One-third of ATV-related deaths and injuries involve children. At Texas Children’s, children ages 5 to 12 have the highest number of ER visits related to ATV crashes. In 2010, 28 children were hospitalized for severe injuries that resulted from these types of accidents. More recently, 16 children were hospitalized in 2012 and 17 children in 2013. All of the children required surgery for their injuries. Please think of these safety tips each and every time your child is on or around an ATV to keep them safe.

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