Local News

N.C. Senate Considers Bill Putting Age Requirement On ATV Users

Posted May 2, 2005 6:11 a.m. EDT

— Proposed legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly aims to reduce all-terrain vehicle-related injuries, but opponents say the bill goes too far, while proponents say it does not go far enough.

Tonya Smith's 13-year-old son died in an all-terrain vehicle accident six years ago. Smith's son was one of 43 children under the age of 16 who died in ATV accidents over the past five years. Dozens more were hurt.

"Losing a child is something only those who go through it can really understand," Smith said.

Over the weekend, a 14-year-old boy injured himself from an ATV accident near Hillsborough. Similar wrecks have put more than 100,000 people in the hospital every year.

Doctors say there is a reason children are so vulnerable.

"Their heads are larger proportionally to the rest of their body than an adult," Dr. Brent Myers, medical director of Wake County EMS, said. "So if you're involved in an accident, you're more likely to have a head injury, more likely to lose your balance, more likely to be injured the younger you are operating one of these vehicles. That's why North Carolina Senate lawmakers want to ban anyone under the age of 12 from riding (ATVs)."

The bill requires adult supervision for 12- to 16-year-olds and requires them to take a safety course. But some parents don't like it.

"I think the parents need to decide who rides what -- the lawn mower, ATV, jet ski, whatever," Gary Jackson, an opponent of the bill, said. "That's the parents' responsibility, not the government's."

There are also questions about the age requirement. Industry experts want it lowered to six. Some emergency room doctors say the age should be raised to 16. Proponents of the bill say 12 is a compromise.

"We have to look at what is practically possible versus what is ideal," Myers said. "And in this situation, practically possible may be 12 years of age and I would rather take 12 than none, that's for sure."

North Carolina is only one five states that has no ATV regulations.

The bill, which also requires helmets, is scheduled to be voted on in the N.C. Senate Wednesday. If it is approved, it will then go to the House.