Editorial: Is ATV information best safety device?
It’s not against the law for a child to drive an all-terrain vehicle. It’s not against the law for a child to ride on one either.
But is it always a good idea?
On Thursday, Annabel Whittingham, 5, of Fox Chapel was on an ATV in her yard with her dad and her sister. It was the kind of thing that kids might do every day.
Then something went wrong. The ATV sped up. It lurched over a hill, and crashed. Annabel died.
ATVs are not transportation. They are recreation, and if ATV fun is normal, so are crashes. Injuries and deaths are all too common. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, about 10 to 20 children die every year in ATV crashes.
Like a surfboard or downhill skis, the danger is not a glitch that needs to be designed out. The danger is the thrill. It’s the sharp drop on the roller coaster or the sudden shock in a horror movie. The fun comes from the bounce and the jolt. If you wanted a smooth ride, you would be on asphalt.
But what is fun for an adult should be approached with caution for a child. Toddlers don’t surf shark-infested waters or ski black-diamond slopes. Kids must be so tall to ride the roller coaster. Slasher films are rated R for a reason.
Cars are regulated, too. That safe, smooth car ride demands children be buckled in the back seat, and restrained in a booster until height, weight and age requirements are met.
There are regulations that govern how kids may ride or drive ATVs, but not prohibitions. One such regulation restricts underage operators to private property owned or leased by family. That is no doubt cold comfort to family members who lose a child to an ATV crash at home.
The state does demand a safety certificate or safety training course for operators under 16 to drive elsewhere, and kids under 8 aren’t able to take that class at all.
Maybe what would be helpful is a safety class for parents or family members who would operate an ATV with children, so they can make informed decisions about kids’ safety, much the same way a hospital will review things like shaken baby syndrome and car seats with parents before they take their infant home.
It is not against the law to have a kid on an ATV. But they aren’t toys — and good information is always a good idea.