Does the new Massachusetts child-ATV ban go too far?

Posted by Erica Noonan  October 4, 2010 09:54 AM

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With all eyes on the no-texting-while-driving ban (and for teens, no cell phone use at all) that passed last week, few of us even noticed another major piece of kid safety legislation that became effective Oct. 1.

In what is being called the toughest law in the country, kids under 14 are now banned from operating all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, in Massachusetts.

The new law was spurred on by the family of 8-year-old Sean Kearney of Plymouth, who was killed four years ago while riding on an ATV driven by a young playmate.

The Kearneys had no idea Sean would be near an ATV -- machines that can weight between 500 and 1,000 pounds -- when they dropped him off that day at a friend's house in October 2006.

Since his death, they have become outspoken advocates for ATV child safety restrictions.

"Sean's Law," as it came to be called, was warmly welcomed by by the Boston medical community.

About 1,000 children are treated every year in Massachusetts ERs for ATV-related injuries, said Dr. Peter T. Masiakos, a Massachusetts General Hospital pediatric surgeon who has seen (and repaired) the kinds of child-meets-ATV injuries that would make your hair curl.

He and Dr. Lois Lee, of Children's Hospital Boston, both advocates for the new law, contend that that children of the Commonwealth are significantly safer on the sidelines than on an ATV.

When a similar ban was passed in Canada, ATV-related ER visits decreased by 50%, they said. Helmets and pads are just not enough protection for a child on such a powerful machine, they said.

"Some critics have relegated the 2010 legislative session to the annals of political inaction, with many pointing to the failure of the legislature to pass comprehensive health care cost control legislation," they told Moms Are Talking About last week.

"But when it comes to preventing injury to children, our political leaders have enacted legislation that will not only save lives and prevent avoidable injuries, but will also reduce the costs of unnecessary heath care," the doctors said.

Certainly not everyone agrees with the new ATV kid ban. Some parents say it should be a family's choice to judge whether their kid can handle it. The ATV industry argues that better safety training and supervision for kids would prevent injuries, and a ban was not necessary. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

What do you think? Is it wise to ban kids under 14 from ATVs, or does Massachusetts go too far on this one? Leave a comment, or drop an email to enoonan@globe.com And please follow Moms Are Talking About on twitter here.

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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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