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Supporters Hope New ATV Law Raises Safety Awareness

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Safety advocates say a new state law that prohibits children under age 8 from operating all-terrain vehicles is a start, but that they were actually hoping for a higher age restriction.

Just two months ago in Johnston County, an ATV accident killed a 10-year-old boy.

Backers of the law, which went into effect Thursday, hope to prevent a similar tragedy, but some wonder if the new law is enough.

"When the Child Fatality Task Force saw the numbers, there were lots of gasps," said Task Force co-chairman Tom Vitaglione.

In the last five years, 157 people have died in ATV accidents in North Carolina -- 43 of them were children. Of those 43, 22 were under the age of 12; seven were under the age of 8.

The Child Fatality Task Force had hoped for the age to be 12 because of the statewide statistics and national research from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"Children under the age of 12 are not prepared," Vitaglione said. "They simply don't have the developmental skills to operate an ATV safely."

The industry recommendation is age 6, so the task force believes the compromise with lawmakers at age 8 is step in the right direction.

"If we continue to have a large number of deaths between 8 and 12, we'll go back in and ask for a change," Vitaglione said.

Under the law, children and adults are now required to wear helmets and children under 16 must take a safety course.

Parent Danny Woodlief supports the helmet rule and promotes safety with his 8-year-old, but he does not think an age should be mandated.

"He's never gotten hurt on it," Woodlief said. "He's been riding it since he was 6 years old."

Under the new law, only children between ages 8 and 11 can operate ATVs with engines less than 70 cubic centimeters.. Woodlief's son is no longer able to operate the one he has because it is 90 cubic centimeters.

"Quite frankly, he's gotten hurt more on his bicycle and skateboard than he has on this," Woodlief said. "I think it really comes down to a parent watching their child."

The new law also prohibits ATV operators from carrying passengers unless the vehicle is specifically designed for two people.

Violators can be fined up to $200.

Supporters say that while they realize the law will not be a priority on the law enforcement list, they do hope it will raise awareness and help change people's behaviors.

North Carolina is the 46th state to impose restrictions on all-terrain vehicles. Only Hawaii, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina allow anyone to ride ATVs. In addition, riders must wear helmets and other protective gear.

The ATV Safety Institute says North Carolina's new law is considered among the more restrictive; many states' requirements only apply only to public roads. North Carolina's applies to private property as well.


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