Several North American safety agencies with twelve letter acronyms for names have been diligently compiling data from ATV accident reports and emergency room statistics. Yes, you’re right; much of the hype portraying ATVing as unsafe is skewed.
First, allow me to state that we would love to see our sport 100 percent safe – no injuries, no horror stories, no six o’clock news headlines. So please don’t even think about misconstruing our stance as we try to bring some perspective to this thorny issue.
Understand this, though: When agencies report 300 or 400 injuries with a common denominator, the media listens. They then hoist themselves atop soap boxes, cameras tightly focused, ready to generate fear and most importantly, attention, to their latest ‘uncovering’.
Every single report represents needless heartache and it’s impossible to minimize its importance. However, when automobile accident and injury numbers are reported in relation to total miles driven on North American highways by all motorists, suddenly perspective comes into play.
Obviously, people are hurt and, unfortunately, some die in auto accidents every day. However, there are millions of cars on the road being driven by an enormous number of people for considerable miles every day.
Thus, 20,000 or more fatalities as an aggregate number in a specific period of time can be explained away against millions of miles driven by millions of drivers.
As a result, we don’t hear calls to ban automobiles. We hear calls for programs to improve automobiles to make them safer. We hear calls to reduce the incidence of drunk driving and we hear calls for better driver training for young drivers. It’s a reasonable, rational response to the reality that automobiles are part of our culture.
When it comes to something less necessary, say the use of ATVs, then the whole thing goes sideways with the media and reason goes out the window. If you conservatively estimate the aging fleet of ATVs in North America to be 5-7 million units in use, the accident numbers become much easier to quantify.
Yes, there’s evidence of an increase in ATV accidents. The media’s simplistic response is to limit their use, limit rider ages, limit access to land and even to ban ATVs.
Unfortunately, almost all of the general media’s proposals for decreasing ATV accidents are reactionary and, if implemented would not get to the core of the problem.
Here’s what we need to do as individuals, as manufacturers and as dealers: Get helmets on everybody riding ATVs. It’s that simple. This alone will dramatically reduce the incidence of injury and death.
Next, add this one in for a powerful improvement in the numbers: Adopt a zero tolerance attitude to drug and alcohol use. Our rudimentary analysis of accident stats from all over North America undeniably proves that if all ATV users were wearing helmets and were unimpaired, injury and fatality stats would plummet.
Here’s another one: Unsupervised young riders, in particular young riders on adult sized ATVs. Keep kids, 16 and under, off adult size ATVs and make sure younger kids have close adult supervision. Seems elementary, doesn’t it?
The general media is lining up against us – using our own stats to tell us how to fix the problem. They know little or nothing about our sport and will keep pushing their perceptions on an uninformed public. We need to be active both individually and corporately to ensure the right message is conveyed.
Think about being a leader in your group. If helmetless riding has been a common event, start wearing yours. If there’s been reluctance to adopt “zero tolerance” to alcohol, be the one who does in your group.
We can win this battle. Other recreational motorized activities have been here and their examples are being emulated at the highest levels of the ATV industry right now. However, we need you, the person in the mirror, to ensure your attitudes and actions in support of responsible, sober, helmeted riding start right in your own backyard.