All-terrain vehicles are small, single- or dual-person vehicles that are used for recreational purposes on off-road courses or areas of wider land. They are not street legal in the United States, and owners and riders are required to follow subsequent laws and regulations regarding where the vehicles can be operated, as well as the use of proper safety equipment.
Originally created with three wheels, ATVs use four low-pressure tires to handle rough terrains. The vehicle-specific tires feature deep grooves and treads to help handle muddy and rocky land. ATVs are operated like motorcycles, in that the rider is most often seated above the engine, which by U.S. standards can be anywhere between 49 and 1,000 cc in size. Some ATV manufacturers have created ATVs with side-by-side seating, as well.
At lower speeds, ATVs are safer than motorcycles because of the stability provided by the four wheels. However, because of the terrain that ATVs are created for, they can be just as dangerous as any vehicle at higher speeds. The biggest danger facing ATV use is the possibility of a rollover. Unlike in automobile rollovers, ATVs do not offer the partial security of a roof to protect the driver and passenger. Some ATVs are manufactured with roll cages, however accidents and rollovers can still lead to severe crush injuries, affecting the limbs and head.
The most popular manufacturers of ATVs are Arctic Cat, Bombardier, Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. Polaris is the leading manufacturer and distributor of ATVs and snowmobiles in the U.S., having passed Yamaha within the past few years.
Age also plays a major role in ATV use, safety and laws. Manufacturers build different size ATVs for use by different age groups, and a lack of adherence to a vehicle size to age ratio can lead to very serious injury. Riders under the age of 16 account for more than one-third of ATV accidents and injuries, and are often the most avoidable.
ATV accidents can lead to abrasions, bruising, burns, concussions, dislocations, fractures, lacerations, and whiplash. The majority of injuries are caused under avoidable circumstances, including no helmet, poor judgment, vehicle size compared to age, and riding with a passenger on a single-use vehicle.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that ATVs were responsible for 125,500 injuries in 2003 that required emergency medical treatment. This was the second-consecutive year that a national record had been broken for ATV-related injuries. 2003 also reported the highest number of ATV-related deaths at an estimated 621.
In 2006, serious injuries requiring emergency medical treatment was reported at 146,000, and that number rose to 150,900 in 2007.
Between 2001 and 2007, the number of annual serious injuries treated by emergency medical professionals rose 37 percent.
One-third of all ATV-related fatalities reported and recorded between 1982 and 2002 were riders under the age of 16.
Eighty percent of fatalities caused by ATV accidents are due to injuries to the central nervous system.
From 1999 to 2001, 698 recorded fatalities were attributed to ATV riders under the age of 19.
Helmets have been known to reduce the risk of fatalities in ATV accidents by 42 percent. They have also been known to reduce the possibility of a non-fatal head injury by 64 percent.
Between 1985 and 2002, riders under the age of 16 have accounted for 37 percent of injuries related to ATV accidents.
More than 103,000 ATV riders under the age of 16 were treated for injuries stemming from ATV accidents between 2000 and 2002.
Male ATV riders comprised 77 percent of injuries related to ATV accidents between 1995 and 2003.
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