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Mack J. Marsh Jr.: Urge future passage of bill to protect ATV riders

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Louisiana truly is the sportsman’s paradise. We are lucky to have so many options when it comes to outdoor adventures and the tools and equipment necessary to enjoy it in its entire splendor. But, like any tool, it is our responsibility to ensure our own safety and that of our children when we utilize powerful, potentially dangerous equipment.

All-terrain vehicles, better known as ATVs, are one of the most common tools we use to enjoy the natural resources of our state. It seems every garage and carport in northwest Louisiana has at least one of these powerful, useful vehicles. It is common to see hunters, outdoorsmen or just weekend thrill-seekers speeding through the woods and down the off-road trails of our area. Unfortunately, all too often, people don’t think to take the proper care of their safety when engaging in these activities.

We require youngsters to wear PFDs or life jackets when boating, to use seat belts while riding in enclosed cars on our streets and highways, and yet, our Legislature voted against common-sense protections for youngsters when it comes to ATV use. House Bill 747, authored by state Rep. Clara B. Gilbeau Baudoin and co-authored by our area’s Rep. Beverly Bruce, would have done just that, protected our children by requiring them to wear helmets and eye protection when riding any ATV.

What are the consequences of not wearing the proper gear? Death, yes, it is sad when we lose a child for reasons that can be prevented. But even longer-asting consequences can occur. Louisiana has a higher occurrence of brain and spinal cord injuries as a result of ATV crashes than most other states. This is because of our great natural resources and our desire to enjoy them. However, we should do so safely and responsibility.

Wearing the proper equipment prevents these costly injuries. Recovery from a brain or spinal cord injury can cost in excess of $1,000,000. Often, survivors are forced onto the Medicaid rolls because they do not have health insurance to cover these costs. A brain or spinal cord injury survivor can expect to earn $250,000 less over their lifetime than average, often having to rely on Social Security Disability benefits to survive. Brain and spinal cord injuries cost the survivor, their family and our communities.

It is too late to do anything about this bill this year. This is important legislation that can save taxpayer dollars, save families and communities and even save lives, all without costing our state anything more than a representative’s vote. This bill failed by three votes. Don’t let it happen again. Contact your state representative and urge them to vote responsibly on this legislation next year. Representatives from our area that voted for the measure: Reps. Earnest Baylor, Beverly Bruce, Roy Burrell, Jean Doerge, Billy Montgomery and Mike Powell. These representatives should be applauded for acting to protect our children. Reps. Jane Smith, Wayne Waddell and Patrick Williams voted against this legislation.

Visit the representatives that voted against House Bill 747 and urge them to support it in the future, for the future of our children.

Mack J. Marsh Jr. is outreach and marketing coordinator and voice for injury prevention with ThinkFirst of the Ark-La-Tex.

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