August 27, 2013

In Maine, kids' safety on ATVs a rising concern

A string of recent crashes in Maine, including one that killed a 4-year-old boy, have put the focus on a growing, popular pastime.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Jessica Wheeler, whose 8-year-old daughter was injured while riding an all-terrain vehicle in Lincoln last week, said she and her daughter were at a friend's home when a 12-year-old neighbor came by to visit on her family's ATV.

click image to enlarge

Twelve-year-old Alyssa Lajoie leads the way during a ATV trail ride with her Dad, Jim Lajoie, and his passenger, brother Ian, age 8, near their Dayton home on Monday, August 26, 2013. Alyssa took the training class at age 10 with her mother and was certified to ride on public trails.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Jim Lajoie of Dayton points something out down the trail during a break while riding ATVs with his daughter Alyssa, 12, and son Ian, 8, on a trail near their home on Monday, August 26, 2013. Jim said that one of the benefits of ATV trail riding are the things you see along the way.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

MAINE ATV LAWS, RULES

• Children under 10 are not permitted to operate ATVs, except on their own property.

• Children between the ages of 10 and 16 must attend a training program with a parent or guardian to operate ATVs.

• ATV riders under 18 must wear a helmet.

• Private ATVs must be registered to be used off private property.

• ATVs may be operated on a public way only for the length of the distance necessary, not to exceed 500 yards.

• ATV riders must obtain permission before riding on the land of another, unless its a designated ATV trail.

Wheeler's daughter rode the ATV first with an older cousin, then rode with the 12-year-old neighbor. The girls went off a trail and into some trees. The 8-year-old's injury was a scraped neck from her helmet strap.

Wheeler was charged with failure to report the crash. Her friend, Jessica Tenney, was charged with allowing a minor to operate an ATV.

"It's not like they were completely unsupervised," Wheeler said. "I wasn't aware of ATV laws at all. ... Had I known the law, my daughter wouldn't have been on it."

That and other recent crashes involving ATVs, including an accident in East Machias on Saturday that killed a 4-year-old boy, raise questions about ATV safety for children and the liability of parents, at a time when the state is years behind on compiling ATV crash information.

The Maine Warden Service said it does not know how many ATV crashes the state had in 2011, 2012 or so far in 2013.

With about 62,000 ATVs registered in Maine and many more that don't have to be registered because they are used only on private property, ATVs are common in most of the state.

Maine has 148 state-recognized ATV clubs, about 7,000 miles of ATV trails and about 2,800 landowners involved in the state's trail system.

"It's just a cultural thing, really," said Cpl. John MacDonald of the Warden Service. "Many people involved with ATVs start their children very young."

Henry Carey, president of the Penobscot Off-Road Riders ATV Club in Lincoln, said he has seen children riding all-terrain vehicles this year in ways "that I just shake my head (at)," riding adult-sized machines that are "way too big for them" or riding without adult supervision.

"We promote the safe riding of ATVs. The ultimate person responsible for a minor is the parent or guardian," said Carey, whose club of about 175 members offers two ATV safety classes per year.

Under Maine law, it is illegal for anyone younger than 10 to operate an ATV off private property. Children ages 10 to 16 must attend, along with a parent or guardian, one of the many safety training programs run statewide by the warden service in conjunction with ATV clubs.

"Many times, parents are held accountable for crashes their underage children become involved in," MacDonald said. "But I would say the majority of parents are cautious and monitor their kids when they are using ATVs."

Wheeler said she doesn't mind paying the fine, since she feels she has learned her lesson without major consequence.

"My daughter wasn't seriously hurt, thank God," Wheeler said. "I'm a very good mother who just made a bad call."

The number of ATV crashes and injuries annually in Maine has declined in recent years, from a high of about 350 crashes in 2004 to a low of about 150 in 2008, MacDonald said.

The Warden Service reported 269 ATV crashes and four deaths in 2009. It reported 266 crashes and seven deaths in 2010, the most recent year for which it has data available.

The agency has no available data for the years after 2010, though MacDonald said the numbers have been steady.

The records do not break down crash data by the operators' age.

Nationally, data about ATV-related deaths is still being collected for years as far back as 2007. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released its annual report on ATV safety for 2011 in February of this year with a footnote that data collection for years after 2007 continues.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Twelve-year-old Alyssa Lajoie leads the way during a ATV trail ride with her Dad, Jim Lajoie, and his passenger, brother Ian, age 8, near their Dayton home on Monday, August 26, 2013. Alyssa took the training class at age 10 with her mother and was certified to ride on public trails.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

  


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