I read Tuesday that six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken severed her spine in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Arizona. All I could do was shake my head.
Let me just state right now: I am not a fan of ATVs. Never have been, never will be.
I know they can be a source of fun and excitement and are used for work-related purposes. But I think too many people use them in an unsafe manner, making them dangerous. Until my children are adults and making their own life decisions, I don’t want them riding ATVs.
That said, I don’t think they should be illegal. And I don’t oppose people riding them, as long as they wear helmets and operate the ATVs as intended. Unfortunately, not enough people do.
The news about Van Dyken made me think that I have been reading about a lot of ATV accidents. In fact, in April it seemed like every email I received from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources was about an ATV accident.
An April 6 DNR media release described how a 49-year-old West Terre Haute man sustained serious injuries. The release said alcohol was believed to be a contributing factor, and he was not wearing a helmet.
A week later the DNR sent a release about Taylor Clark, 16, of Columbus, who was injured when the ATV she was driving in a pasture struck a farm fence.
Clark suffered cuts and lacerations on her upper body and arms. She wasn’t wearing a helmet or other protective clothing, but fortunately she sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for a Jackson County man and a Columbus boy.
Jay D. Fosbrink, 39, of Medora, was found dead
April 19, about 36 hours after he left home on a wild boar hunting trip. His ATV tipped over and landed on him, preventing Fosbrink from breathing.
On May 8, Cameron Briot, 11, of Columbus, died when the four-wheeler he was riding collided with a motorcycle on a Bartholomew County road. Police said that Briot, who was not wearing a helmet, was pulling out of a field when he collided with the motorcyclist.
Now, don’t mistake my intention here. In no way am I placing blame on anyone for any of these accidents. Each circumstance was different, with varying conditions and ages of people involved.
My point is to remind people that ATVs are not merely pleasure rides. They are powerful vehicles just like cars, trucks and motorcycles. As such, adults should think for a minute before riding them, just as they would other vehicles, especially if they have consumed any alcoholic beverages. And parents should use riding on ATVs as a teaching moment for their children, just as they would before handing their teens the keys to the car.
A similar string of ATV accidents in or near Bartholomew County in 2012 led to my writing a news story about the subject. I interviewed
Dr. Robert Collins, medical director of the emergency department at Riley Hospital for Children. He had strong opinions about the subject because he regularly saw children in the emergency department after ATV accidents. Many suffer cuts, scrapes, burns or bruises, but others die or suffer serious brain injuries, he said.
Collins said parents need to supervise their children on ATVs and make sure they wear protective gear, particularly a helmet, if they are going to allow their children to ride. One of the main reasons for children’s injuries, he said, is that they ride ATVs that are suited for adults and are too big, powerful and fast for children to control. Children’s ATVs are smaller and slower, he said. Collins also noted that riding on uneven terrain can contribute to an ATV rolling over on top of a rider.
In the same story, Indiana Conservation Officer Jet Quillen said alcohol often is a factor in ATV accidents involving adults and adolescents. And ATVs should not be ridden on roadways because their tires and braking and steering systems are designed for off-road use.
Now that we’re in a time of the year when most days are sunny and warm, more people will be riding ATVs, for work and for pleasure. I just hope that riders wear the proper safety gear and understand that riding four-wheelers presents risks just like driving a car or truck on a city street or highway. I hope that riders are aware of their surroundings and are as careful as possible.
That’s because I really don’t want to read about another ATV accident.
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.