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Doctors stress ATV safety

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The deaths of two Arkansans in all-terrain vehicle accidents over the weekend were a reminder that ATV accidents are on the rise in the state, and doctors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital want to see the trend reversed.

“Arkansas has had increasing numbers of injuries for several years,” said Dr. Mary Aitken, a pediatrician with the hospital’s Injury Free Coalition for Kids. “And at Arkansas Children’s Hospital we’ve seen a dramatic increase in serious injuries.”

Aitken said the hospital saw 79 people with serious injuries from ATV accidents last year, including many with traumatic brain injuries. Other serious injuries include pelvic, skull and facial fractures and spinal cord injuries that can end in paralysis and short-term disabilities.

Doctors in Arkansas started tracking hospital admissions of children from all-terrain-vehicle accidents in 1998, when the total was between 30 and 40 a year. The number has risen nearly every year since 1998 and now is more than 60, Aitken said.

Aitken said the most recent ATV deaths seemed to happen earlier than in previous years, but the most injuries and fatalities occur in early spring when the weather begins to warm, in summer and at the beginning of hunting season in the fall.

On Friday, a toddler, Elizabeth Everett of Paragould, died at about 8:30 p.m. when the ATV she was riding was struck by a sport utility vehicle while riding on a paved street. The ATV was being driven by Nicholas Cox, 26, of Paragould, who was hospitalized for treatment of his injuries.

Marcus T. Angel, 40, of Jonesboro, also died after the four-wheeler he was riding went into a ditch. Jonesboro police said the vehicle flipped onto Angel after it hit a metal fence post.

Most injuries are caused when the ATV flips, either throwing the rider and passenger off or pinning them underneath the vehicle, Aitken said.

“Most ATVs, with very few exceptions, are designed for a single driver,” Aitken said. “A passenger makes the vehicles much more unstable, and they can turn over more easily.”

Aitken said that anyone considering buying or driving an ATV needs to realize that they are not toys, but are powerful vehicles that can weight nearly 600 pounds and can travel at speeds up to 60 or 70 mph.

Additionally, children should not be allowed to drive the vehicles, which are typically designed for adults, she said. One in three ATV crash victims is age 16 or younger, and one in four of all ATV-related deaths is age 16 or younger.

Aitken said proper training, riding an age-appropriate vehicle, riding on unpaved roads and wearing a helmet could help reduce the number of injuries and deaths in the state.

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