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N.C. Safety Panel Wants ATV Restrictions For Children

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Tonya Smith's Son Killed In ATV Accident
RALEIGH — The General Assembly should bar children under 16 years old from operating larger and faster all-terrain vehicles, a state panel recommended Monday.

The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force also wants lawmakers to require all ATV drivers to wear a safety helmet and eye protection and keep passengers off vehicles built for one person.

North Carolina is one of only five states with no restrictions on the popular all-terrain vehicles, according to the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, the ATV industry's association.

In 1999, Tonya Smith's 13-year-old son (pictured on left) died in an ATV accident. Since then she and other parents have been urging lawmakers to enact age restrictions for ATVs.

"We've got to take action," said Smith, who lives in Cumberland County. "Losing a child is something only those who go through it can really understand."

The task force, comprised of child advocates, physicians and legislators, agreed to back legislation that would bar any child under 12 from operating an ATV with an engine capacity larger than 70 cubic centimeters.

The engine capacity limit for kids up to 16 years old would be 90 cubic centimeters. Children 16 and older could ride ATVs with larger engines, according to the recommendations.

"We've got kids who don't know how to ride a bicycle'" on ATVs, said Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland, a retired pediatrician and a panel member.

North Carolina was ranked 10th nationally with 189 ATV-related deaths from 1982-2002, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"I have seen children injured from ATV falls, even when they've been wearing helmets," said Dr. Peter Morris, president of the N.C. Pediatrics Society. "The vehicles move fast on rough terrain; they can be bouncy, and children fall off."

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