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Experts Say ATV Deaths Are Preventable


By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – SFX: ATVs racing across Cinder Hills.

On a recent Saturday Cinder Hills, the designated ATV area just east of Flagstaff, is crawling with all types of off road vehicles. Dune buggies, quads and motor bikes, big and small, race across the rocky landscape in every direction. All of them loud and all of them fast. (spike tape of ATV) People drive from all over the region to ride up and down the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks.

Gary Crosby, who teaches ATV safety, loans me a big black quad with yellow flames and a helmet to match.

CROSBY: If everybody's ready go ahead and get on your quad. Ok turn the ignition switch on (engine starts). After it's runnin raise your left hand.

My hands shake. This is my first time riding an ATV and I'm a bit nervous.
I push the throttle and release it as I quickly discover how fast it moves. I proceed this way fast and slow, fast then slow again around and around in a big circle.

CROSBY: (throttle, release, throttle, release) you'll get used to it (I laugh) it's alright you'll get used to it.

Pretty soon I'm leaning into my turns and enjoying the ride. Crosby, whose been riding for 24 years, says even experienced riders have to be careful. He says safety classes like his should be mandatory. Right now, they're not. Only about 25 percent of first-time riders take them.

SFX: Fade out ATV noise.

And that's part of the reason so many ATV riders end up here.

SFX: Cross fade baby crying, nurses chatter in emergency department "may I have your attention..."

-- the emergency department at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Mark Donelly is a surgeon at FMC.

DONELLY: I wouldn't buy one. I wouldn't use one and I wouldn't have my family use one.

Donelly has had to stitch up ATV riders with all kinds of trauma injuries from broken bones and skull fractures, to collapsed lungs, ruptured spleens and lacerated livers. He says the hardest cases he sees are children.

DONELLY: Horsepower and kids don't mix. Kids are best designed to be on a bicycle. Kids need to stay away from these would be my best recommendation.

SFX: Fade down hospital amby under next graf.

Children are involved in about a third of all ATV-related deaths and injuries, according to the U-S Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most occur when a child is driving or riding tandem on an adult ATV. CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson says children are twice as likely to be injured on adult ATVs as compared to vehicles specifically designed for kids.

WOLFSON: Children should not be on an ATV that can go 60 mph and weighs 600 pounds. The kids are dying across the country every week.

Two kids have died in ATV accidents in northern Arizona this summer. Wolfson says the CPSC is committed to getting more youth models on the market. They're smaller, slower and safer. But this new legislation doesn't include that. Instead it makes recommendations for speed and braking systems on adult ATVs mandatory. And it will require all manufacturers to offer free training when you purchase a new ATV, something only a few companies do now.

WOLFSON: We're seeing more units coming into the market, more new riders not taking training and more deadly situations occurring. What is occurring in Arizona is tragically happening across the country.

He says those deadly situations could be avoided if people followed a few basic rules: no kids on adult ATVs, no riding on paved roads or under the influence of alcohol, no riding tandem or at night.

Scott Patrick would agree. He says he should have died the night he crashed his ATV just outside Flagstaff.

PATRICK: Everything that I know and what I've been told I wasn't supposed to make it.

He thinks he was going about 70 miles per hour when he missed a turn, hit a tree and landed with the quad on top of him. He was in a drug induced coma for almost two months.

PATRICK: I broke both legs at my knees, shattered and dislocated my right hip, broke seven ribs, broke my right arm, shattered my left eye socket. I had a ruptured aorta, two punctured lungs, damaged my liver, my colon and my stomach ... I have a scar the shape of Texas. I got lucky no brain injury.

Lucky is right. After six surgeries he walks with a cane and has to attend physical therapy in Phoenix where he lives. Still he plans to ride again - with a helmet this time.

PATRICK: I'm an adrenalin junky just like anybody else who rides em going 40, 50, 60, 70 miles an hour. It's the rush of the wind blowing past ya.

Patrick says it's not the vehicle that's dangerous, it's the rider. He says just about anybody can jump on an ATV without any experience or training, grab a handful of throttle, and go. And that's why so many accidents happen.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.