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Federal Government Report Highlights Danger to Children of Using All-Terrain Vehicles

Not all motor vehicle accidents include an automobile or truck. Off-road or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are involved of hundreds of accidents and fatalities each year. The staff of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently released a report on ATV accidents that took place between 1982 and 2012. The CPSC has regulated ATV safety standards in the United States since 2009.

The CPSC’s Findings

The CPSC defines an ATV as “an off-road, motorized vehicle having three or four low-pressure tires, a straddle seat for the operator, and handlebars for steering control.” New ATVs must be four-wheel vehicles, as CPSC regulations ban the importation or sale of three-wheel ATVs. Vehicles with steering wheels and bucket seats, such as a golf cart, are not classified as ATVs.

For the 30-year period reviewed by CPSC staff, there were 12,391 deaths reported due to ATV accidents. In 2012, the last year for which data was published, there were 353 fatalities. The number of fatalities has fallen each of the past six reported years–down from a high of 832 deaths in 2006. The CPSC cautioned, however, that reported deaths for the years 2009 to 2012 will likely increase as the staff receives updated information.

During the years 1982 to 2008, Georgia reported 322 ATV-related deaths, the 11th highest total among all states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico). For the years 2009 to 2012, at least 74 additional deaths have been reported, making the current 30-year total 396 deaths. Tragically, children under the age of 16 account for 24% of all ATV-related deaths reported since 1982, and 43% of those children were under 12 years of age. The CPSC also estimates there are over 107,000 injuries each year attributed to ATV use, about one quarter of which involve children under the age of 16.

ATV Safety in Georgia

The Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles does not require tags, titles or registrations for ATVs. Georgia law authorizes individual counties, towns and municipalities to regulate the times and places where ATVs may be used. No person may operate an ATV on private property without the owner’s permission.

Because they are not “motor vehicles” subject to DMV licensing, parents often allow children under the age of 16 to drive ATVs on private property. As evidenced by the CPSC’s fatality statistics, this can pose significant safety risks to the child and others. And the law may not always side with victims of ATV misuse. In 2010, for example, the Georgia Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit brought by the parent of a 14-year-old who was injured when riding in an ATV operated by another 14-year-old. The parents of the driver were not responsible for the other child’s injuries, the appeals court explained, because there was no evidence the parents authorized their child’s use of the ATV or demonstrated negligence in allowing her to take the keys without their knowledge.

This does not mean parents can avoid responsibility simply by turning a blind eye to their child’s misuse of an ATV. As the Court of Appeals noted, if the child has a “proclivity or propensity for the specific dangerous activity,” including ATV use, then the parents may be liable if they don’t act upon that knowledge. In this particular case, the undisputed evidence showed the child had no prior history of using her parents’ ATV without their permission.