Child advocacy group blasts proposal to allow 6-year-olds to operate ATVs
Posted July 8, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Tucked among the myriad provisions in a 58-page regulatory reform bill passed last week by the Senate is a proposal to loosen the restrictions on who can operate all-terrain vehicles in North Carolina.
The bill, which is expected to be taken up in the state House next week, would lower the minimum age for children to drive an ATV from 8 to 6. It also would eliminate rules regarding the size of ATV engines for children 11 and younger and 12 to 15 in favor of restrictions listed on warning labels put on the ATVs by manufacturers.
Rob Thompson, policy director of advocacy group NC Child, called the idea a mistake.
"It would change it to what the industry recommended standards are, and we believe that public policy should be shaped by not only what the industry recommends but also by what pediatricians recommend," Thompson said.
North Carolina set the minimum age at 8 for ATV operation a decade ago, he said, as a compromise between the industry and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which discourages anyone younger than 16 to drive an ATV. An 18-month study preceded the change.
Since then, Thompson said, child deaths related to ATVs dropped by 59 percent in North Carolina, even though ridership increased. He said he's worried that trend will reverse if the age is lowered to 6.
"At about 6 years old, I can remember having a hard time even learning how to ride a bike, let alone getting behind a powerful machine that can go really fast, that can cause a lot of damage and really hurt me," he said.
People commenting on the WRAL News Facebook page were split on the proposal, with some parents saying they know children as young as 3 who have driven ATVs.
"They make ATVs age-appropriate for children with speed restrictions and engine cutoff controls for parents. Wear proper safety gear and watch your kids, and they are good," wrote Keirstin Cotto of Virginia Beach, Va.
The bill would require parents or guardians to be in "continuous visual supervision" of anyone younger than 16 operating an ATV.
Still, that's not enough for some people.
"You can be 6 to drive one of these, but you have to be in a seat belt in a car? It's like the Senate wants kids to get hurt," Brenda Childers Kidd posted on Facebook.