NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Twenty-five percent of adolescents in the U.S. have ridden an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) but less than half of them regularly wear helmets and a quarter never do, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.
The vehicles, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, are most popular with rural kids, researchers found, but those are also the users least likely to wear a helmet, putting them at higher risk for serious injury, the study authors say.
Finding ways to convey the importance of safe practices to kids and their parents should be a priority, they emphasize in their report.
“Helmets are very important. Helmet non-use among youth is a particular concern because these riders have a greater likelihood of crashing than adults, and their likelihood of dying or sustaining a serious TBI is much higher,” said Bethany West, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta and coauthor of the study.
“We found that the most frequent riders had the lowest consistent helmet use,” West told Reuters Health.
U.S. Olympic Swimmer Amy Van Dyken, 41, was left paralyzed after severing her spine in an ATV accident last month (see Reuters story of June 18, 2014, here: reut.rs/V9fl3d).
In 2011, an estimated 29,000 children were hospitalized because of ATV-related injuries, according to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report. More than 10 million ATVs are in use in the United States, the same study says.
The previous year, researchers found that serious injuries in ATV crashes were 50% more likely to be deadly than comparable injuries among motorcycle riders (see Reuters Health story of October 26, 2010, here: reut.rs/1mGKLUj).
The last study to assess helmet use among young ATV riders was in 2001, according to West, so she and Ruth Shults of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control thought it was time for an update.
They analyzed responses to a 2011 online survey of 831 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 about their health-related beliefs and behaviors. Among the questions, children were asked how often they rode ATVs and whether they "always" or "not always" wore helmets while riding.
One quarter of the kids said they had ridden an ATV in the past year. Of those, twice as many lived outside a major metropolitan area, according to the results published online June 10 in the journal Injury Prevention.
Only 45% of kids who had ridden in the past year said they always wore a helmet and 25% said they never did. Among the kids who had ridden six or more times in the past year, 8 in 10 said they didn’t always wear a helmet.
The survey participants may not perfectly represent their age group nationwide, the authors caution, but they do “closely approximate” the U.S. census population, so the results do provide an estimate of how many kids are using ATVs and how they’re using them.
That knowledge could help in crafting safety messages that will reach kids and their parents, and possibly lead to changes in ATV design that could also improve safety, the authors write.
“Helmet use is important to prevent brain injuries,” said Amy Artuso, a program manager at the National Safety Council who was not involved in the study. “While broken bones can typically be healed, brain injuries are much harder to recover from, if recovery is possible.”
Inconsistent helmet use is a well-known problem among American youth. Recent research has found that children often refuse to wear the protective head gear.
“Just like any new driver, children are less experienced,” Artuso said. “They’re not as strong physically. It increases their risk for injuries.”
It's important to read the labels on the helmets and purchase a quality helmet, Artuso added.
“Parents are key in making sure their children have a helmet that fits properly and getting their child to agree to wear it every time they ride,” West said. Adults should also act as good role models by always wearing helmets, she said.
Injury Prevention 2014.