ATV injuries in kids are down. Do we thank a lousy economy?

The numbers of kids 15 and under who got hurt riding all terrain vehicles (ATVs) went up 35% between 2001 and 2004 — but then fell 37% between 2004 and 2010, a team of researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.

It’s unclear exactly why injuries dropped off, they said: Over the course of the decade, overall ATV use more than doubled, with an estimated 10.6 million four-wheeled ATVs in use in 2010. But even as the numbers of ATVs increased, fewer young people may have ridden the rugged, four-wheeled recreational vehicles as the decade wore on. During the economic recession of the mid-2000s, new ATV sales declined — and with them, perhaps, new riders. What’s more, teens, who tend to be price-conscious drivers, may not have had the spare cash on hand to pay expensive gas bills.

“During economic downturns, discretionary travel and travel by drivers with limited funds, including teen drivers, decline most,” wrote National Center for Injury and Violence Prevention and Control epidemiologist Ruth A. Shults and colleagues, in the journal Pediatrics.

Using nationally representative data assembled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program, the researchers estimated that over the course of the decade, more than 361,000 children 15 or younger were treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained during ATV rides. Annual injuries among riders 15 and under numbered 32,280 in 2001, peaked at 43,450 in 2004 and decreased to 27,517 in 2010. Children 11 to 15 years old accounted for nearly two-thirds of the injuries reported, with boys getting injured at rates about twice that of girls, in all three age groups, the researchers considered.

Fractures were reported in nearly 30% of the injured riders between the ages of 6 and 10 and the ages of 11 and 15; among injured younger riders ages 0 to 5, fractures represented 20%. The youngest kids were more likely to suffer cuts than the older ones.  The most common diagnoses in girls were bruises and scrapes; in boys, fractures. 

Compared with children visiting emergency rooms for all injuries, kids with ATV-related injuries were seven times as likely to be hospitalized. They were twice as likely to be hospitalized as children injured in car crashes, the team added. 

According to the report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that children 15 years and younger not be allowed to ride adult-sized ATVs (which is associated with increased injuries), always wear helmets, stick to unpaved areas when riding, and never carry a passenger unless their ATV is built for it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal Pediatrics, recommends that kids under 15 stay off of ATVs altogether.

Read the Pediatrics study on ATV injuries here.

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