ATV injuries, deaths climb in ’12
With part of his skull missing, his brain tissue covered only by hair and skin, Trevor Whittaker, along with his wife, Lynn, talked recently to students at Corydon Intermediate School about the importance of wearing a helmet when operating or riding an all-terrain vehicle.
Trevor learned that lesson the hard way back in August when a deer crashed into his ATV while he was riding his 2012 Honda Rancher to work. In addition to a brain injury, he sustained five broken ribs, a broken collar bone, a lacerated spleen, a bruised lung and nerve damage in one of his legs.
School Principal Sandra Joseph encouraged the Whittakers to share their story with students in hopes of potentially saving at least one student’s life. Lynn is a teacher at the school but remains on leave to help care for her husband.
Lynn used photos taken of her husband from his initial days in University Hospital, when he was hooked to machines, to those taken at Frazier Rehab up until he was released 35 days after the crash. He still has outpatient therapy but is expected to make a full recovery.
With the couple was Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Schreck, who shared with the students state statistics about ATVs: There were 201 crashes in 2010 and 220 last year. In 2010, there were 242 injuries and 16 deaths; last year, there were 240 injuries and 11 deaths.
‘It’s not getting any better, he said.
At the time of the program on Nov. 8, there had been 235 crashes and 16 deaths.
The stats don’t include crashes that occurred on private property that weren’t reported.
The ATV Safety Institute reports that 16 million Americans ride ATVs, with the sales of ATVs increasing from 1993 to more than 752,000 in 2007.
‘The No. 1 answer is they’re fun,’ Cpl. Terry Allen, a conservation officer with the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources who teaches ATV safety for the department, said of the ATV’s popularity. ‘People re-create with them; they just enjoy riding them.
‘Second, they’re very useful,’ he said, ‘whether around the farm or for hunters to get their game out of the woods.’
The most serious injury seen by conservation officers, who are generally called to investigate ATV crashes, is head injuries.
‘That’s why we talk so much about wearing a helmet,’ Allen said.
But there are other precautions that can be taken to reduce the chance of injury or even death.
One is to follow the guidelines regarding size- and age-appropriateness of the ATV operator.
‘A kid is not big enough to operate a larger ATV properly,’ Allen said. ‘Often, they can’t turn the handle bars or their legs aren’t long enough to properly operate the ATV.’
Indiana law allows county commissioners to decide if ATVs can be operated on county highways (they are illegal to ride on state roads). In order to be ridden on county roads, the vehicle must be properly registered through the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources and the operator must have a valid driver’s license. (Allen said the law was changed a few years ago that requires all ATVs to be registered, whether the owner intends to operate it on the road or not.)
ATV drivers must obey traffic laws, including speed limits, and have proper working equipment, such as headlights, tail lights and brake lights. Drivers operating ATVs under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be charged the same as a driver for any other motor vehicle, and child-restraint laws also apply to ATVs running on the roadways.
‘The new ATVs have (warning) stickers all over them,’ Allen said. ‘They’re on there for a very good reason.’
He said that if someone is willing to spend $7,000 to $9,000, or more, on an ATV, they should spend the extra $75 to $100 for a helmet. He also encourages new riders to attend a rider safety course.
Back at CIS, Schreck told the students that wearing a helmet may not be considered ‘cool’; however, ‘If you wear your helmet, your friends will, too,’ he said.
Lynn Whittaker said her husband, who is a volunteer firefighter, had a helmet. He chose not to wear it on the very first day that he rode his ATV on the road.
‘He has beaten a lot of the odds,’ Lynn said of her husband who continues his ‘gradual’ recovery.
On Nov. 12, surgeons reattached Whittaker’s skull and he has been released from the hospital.
‘It’s been a happy ending so far to what has not been a happy journey at some times,’ Lynn said.
Rules protect ATV riders
Most injuries and deaths that occur from all-terrain vehicles crashes can be eliminated.
The ATV Safety Institute lists the following rules for operating ATVs:
1. Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.
2. Never ride on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law, as another vehicle could hit you. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.
3. Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
4. Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV, and no more than one passenger on an ATV specifically designed for two people.
5. Ride an ATV that’s right for your age.
6. Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys.
7. Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
8. Take a hands-on ATV RiderCourse and the free online E-Course. For more information, visit ATVSafety.org or call 1-800-887-2887.