Restrict ATV use by children, Ontario doctors urge

Children under the age of 14 should be banned from driving all-terrain vehicles, a medical group says.

Children under the age of 14 should be banned from driving all-terrain vehicles, the Ontario Medical Association says.

A position paper by the physicians' group said children under 14 should not be permitted to operate ATVs of any size within the province.

The OMA said youths aged 14 to 16 should only be allowed to ride vehicles that cannot exceed 30 kilometres per hour.

"As physicians, we are seeing far too many children with serious injuries caused by the use of ATVs," Dr. Suzanne Strasberg, president of the OMA, said in a release Wednesday.

The report's authors noted the use of ATVs is growing rapidly across Ontario and throughout Canada. The vehicles are used for work purposes and increasingly as recreational vehicles by people of all ages.

Growing popularity, more injuries

"Concerns about the safety of ATVs, and unease about the lack of legislation regulating their use, has grown in tandem with their popularity," the report said.

"The safety concerns are particularly poignant for physicians, who witness injuries and fatalities that result from ATV accidents each year."

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported that ATV-related injuries requiring hospitalization increased 50 per cent in Canada in the half-decade between 1996 and 2001, with 36 per cent of these hospitalizations occurring among children and youth.

In Ontario, there were 661 hospitalizations in 2007-2008 due to ATV-related injuries, and 69 per cent of children and youth hospitalized for ATV-related injuries were age 16 or younger, CIHI reported.

The OMA paper also recommended that:

  • The province ensure that any ATV legislation protecting children applies to operating the vehicles on both public and private property.
  • ATV manufacturers respond to medical community concerns and voluntarily discontinue their marketing to children without waiting for legislative restrictions on such activity to be passed into law.
  • Government-approved helmets be compulsory for all ATV users.

Provincial regulations vary

The OMA's call comes weeks after a six-year-old girl in Alberta was killed when an ATV operated by a female relative under 16 rolled over. Both girls were wearing seatbelts and full-face helmets.

ATV operators need considerable muscle strength, skills and judgment to operate the off-road vehicles safety — such attributes are generally lacking or underdeveloped in children, the OMA report said.

ATV regulation varies from province to province. Currently in Ontario, children under 12 are not supposed to operate an ATV on public property unless they are supervised by an adult, but there are no rules regarding use on private property, according to the report.

Several provinces have stricter age restrictions. In New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., children must be at least 14 to operate ATVs. These provinces also all require close adult supervision until the ATV driver is 16 years old.

In Quebec, the minimum age to operate a full-size ATV is 16, and children under 16 are only permitted to operate "youth sized" ATVs approved by government legislation. Similar vehicle size restrictions are in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Quebec and the Maritime provinces mandate safety training courses for children to operate ATVS.

Industry body urges parental supervision

Ahead of Labour Day, the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute, along with the major manufacturers and distributors of ATVs in the United States, released a statement urging all riders to follow the warning labels on the vehicle and for parents to supervise riders under the age of 16.

The U.S. institute said nearly 90 per cent of youth ATV-related injuries occurred when a youth operated an ATV manufactured and intended for use by an adult.

But the Ontario report said that while intuitively, lower power and slower speeds suggest less danger, the OMA was unable to find evidence of reduced injury from child-sized ATVs. The group concluded the safest approach is to avoid ATV use altogether for the youngest Ontarians.

In 2004, the Canadian Pediatric Society recommended a higher age limit than the OMA — age 16.