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ATV deaths reach highest level in a decade, prompting warning from DNR, health officials

The fall is the busiest time of year for OHV riders.
ATV, all-terrain vehicle

The number of people who have died this year in off-highway vehicle incidents is the highest its been in more than a decade, prompting the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and health officials to encourage safety heading into the fall riding season. 

“We’re seeing riders of all ages and abilities out on the trails this year, which is great,” Jon Paurus, DNR Enforcement Division education program coordinator said in a Sept. 17 news release. “For the most part, people are taking the proper precautions and riding safely. Unfortunately, one seemingly minor mishap can be the difference between a positive memory and a life-changing catastrophe.”

So far this year, the Minnesota DNR has recorded 20 fatalities among off-highway vehicles (OHV), which includes ATVs, across the state, Joe Albert of the Minnesota DNR told BMTN on Thursday. The average number of OHV deaths per year during the past decade is 18. 

Meanwhile, Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis says it has seen an increased number of accidents among children. 

“We’ve seen at least six children under the age of 17 requiring hospital admission for ATV-related accidents since May,” Dr. Stephen Smith, an emergency physician at Hennepin Healthcare, said in a statement. “These injuries are preventable, and we want to remind parents to put safety first when allowing their kids to ride on or drive these fast-moving vehicles.”

The increase in incidents can be attributed to the increased number of people riding OHVs. The DNR says the number of registered OHVs is on the rise – in 2019, there were 329,275 vehicles registered in the state, and this year there are nearly 24,000 new registrations for ATVs. 

This year, the DNR's conservation officers have reported an increased number of interactions with riders, with the most common issues including people riding too fast, riding where they're not supposed to and failing to obey traffic signs. The DNR also says there's been a "concerning trend" of riders under the age of 18 not wearing helmets. 

“What’s alarming is that the average age of the patients we’ve seen so far this year is 8,” said Hennepin Healthcare Trauma Prevention Specialist Julie Philbrook, RN. “We understand that it’s important to have fun, but there’s nothing fun about a serious injury that confines you to the hospital – or even worse, one that costs a life.”

From 2014-2019, Hennepin Healthcare’s pediatric trauma center admitted 61 patients with injuries related to ATVs, which averages out to be 10 patients per year who are 17 and younger. 

“Rollovers, crashes, and falling off ATVs are some of the ways injuries can occur,” Philbrook said. “That’s why following safety guidelines and wearing helmets and other proper protection is so important.”

The fall is typically the busiest time of year for OHV riders, which has the Minnesota DNR reminding people to make sure they get home safely by following the rules of the trails. 

Among the DNR's safety tips: 

  • Ride only on designated trails. Stay to the right and travel at a safe speed.
  • Ride sober.
  • Wear protective gear including goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, gloves and a DOT-approved helmet.
  • Avoid riding on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law.
  • Kids need active supervision – OHVs aren’t toys.
  • Complete a safety course.

The state of Minnesota requires ATV operators who are born after July 1, 1987, and off-highway motorcycle riders under the age of 16 to complete a safety course before riding on public lands. Meanwhile, Hennepin Healthcare notes the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 16 should not be allowed to operate or ride off-road vehicles. 

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