Do we need a law to keep kids off ATVs?

Posted by Erica Noonan  June 1, 2009 06:55 AM

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Yes, you read that right, there isn't Massachusetts law banning children older than 10 from riding on all-terrain vehicles, those squat machines (for you city slickers) that resemble a cross between a snowmobile and a small tractor.

Letting a child ride on one of these vehicles is a Really Bad Idea, claims a coalition of doctors, child advocates and lawmakers.

An ATV can weigh between 500 and 1,000 pounds. ATV crashes and rollovers have killed 6,000 people in the United States since 1982, according to the nearly 30 organizations who plan to lobby at the State House today for more restrictive regulations on them.

Unfortunately, the star speakers are the Kearney family of Plymouth, who lost their 8-year-old son, Sean, in October 2006, when he died after an ATV flipped onto him and a friend.

His parents never gave consent for the ATV ride -- a neighbor let the boys take the ATV off on their own, and Sean's friend lost control.

Also speaking his mind will be Massachusetts General Hospital pediatric trauma surgeon Dr. Peter Masiakos, who tried to save Sean's life that terrible day.

He has since lost other kids -- and seen many horrifically injured or disabled for life.

Accidents on ATVs cause more pediatric deaths than accidental gunshot wounds, he said.

Helmets and pads are NOT enough to make it safe, he said. Most injuries happen when a kid is decked out in protectve gear. Training classes and safety guidelines are also not enough, he said.

Dr. Masiakos had seen kids nearly killed riding on ATVs in their backyards with a parent nearby, even while riding on a parent's lap.

"We have to protect kids with a law,'' Masiakos told Boston.com Moms before the hearing. "The industry has sold these things as a part of the culture, and as a safe, family-oriented sport."

Should be an interesting and very emotional debate. For you legal eagles, here are the current state laws regulating kids and ATVs and here is the proposed new legislation.

What do you think? Are there legitimate reasons why kids should ride ATVs? Or is an ATV/kid ban a good idea?

Leave a comment above, or email me at enoonan@globe.com

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about the author

Erica Noonan is chief of the Globe West bureau. Before joining the Globe in 2000, she worked for the Associated Press in Boston. Raised in Wellesley, she has a master's degree in political communication from Emerson College and a BA in political science from Trinity University in San Antonio. She lives in Natick with two energetic children: Dennis, 6, and Lila, 4.

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