The best way to enjoy beautiful northern Wisconsin is to get into the woods.
Riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is a popular way to get you there. Safely riding your ATV will get you there -- and back.
In Wisconsin, more than 280 people have died from injuries sustained in ATV accidents since 1982. Of those deaths, 73 were children under age 16.
"Riding an ATV allows large numbers of people to go out and enjoy the woods up close," said Emergency Medicine Physician Scott Carpenter, M.D., Marshfield Clinic Park Falls Center and Flambeau Hospital, Park Falls. "Being mindful of a few safety precautions can help prevent an accident from spoiling a fun day of riding the trails."
The most troublesome accidents are those involving underage drivers, said Dr. Carpenter. "In the emergency room, we have seen kids that are underage for kid- and adult-sized ATVs. Often the situation is further complicated because the child was not wearing a helmet."
Lack of maturity, including physical ability and judgment, are factors in recommending that a child under age 6 not drive or ride on an ATV. Recommended ages for Y-6 ATV models (under 70 cc engines) are age 6 to 11. These models have simpler controls, easier handling and can be set to travel at lower speeds.
"Accidents involving high speeds have resulted in crashes with buildings, trees or other structures," said Dr. Carpenter. "ATVs are set up for quick movements on rough terrain. Quick turns at a high rate of speed, particularly on gravel or pavement, can result in rollovers."
Injured riders -- adults and kids -- who were not wearing a helmet, are a recurrent issue. "Bad injuries from not wearing a helmet are the most difficult from which to recover," said Dr. Carpenter. "In kids, the heaviest and most dense part of the body is the upper extremity and the head. These areas need protection. Lots of cool helmets are available with great features."
Alcohol, drugs and ATVs don't mix. "We encourage riders to stay hydrated – safely," said Dr. Carpenter. "It is safer to refrain from enjoying alcoholic beverages until the ride is over for the day."
Riding with a partner is a good idea. "Time is a factor with ATV accidents," said Dr. Carpenter. "Because ATV rides are more remote, it might be an hour before an accident victim is found. If you don't plan to ride with a partner, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return."
No ride is too short that safety should be compromised. "'I was just going a little way.' This is a phrase we hear all too often," said Dr. Carpenter. "No matter how far you ride, safely riding an ATV on appropriate terrain is a great way to get there and return."