Expert weighs in on dangers of children operating ATVs

ABILENE, Texas - Texas ranks second in the nation in child fatalities from ATV accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

That's a frightening thought after a child was thrown from an ATV in Tuscola recently. As we found out from the experts this isn't just a bad idea, it's dangerous and illegal.

"You might as well put your kids in the car or the pick up and let your kid drive your car at nine, 10, 11 years old," said Steve Hood, Sales Manager at Kent's Harley Davidson in Abilene. "Basically, if you're under 16 years of age, you're not supposed to drive an all terrain vehicle. So you should be licensed age or older to operate one."

Kent's Harley Davidson is a licensed ATV dealer, which means their feet are held to the fire when it comes to making sure those type of vehicles don't end up in the wrong hands.

"The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the federal government put in rules that dealers like us have to oblige and deal with," Hood said. "We're required by law to make sure that they understand that children cannot operate that vehicle. We have refused to sell vehicles to people that have said, 'I'm gonna buy this for my kid.'"

But Hood said, unfortunately, it's something that still happens.

"I can tell you more stories about people riding ATVs than you can shake a stick at," Hood said. "You know, we just think 'It's a toy.' Well, there are things that aren't toys. Even the smallest ATVs we have run 40 to 50 miles per hour. We have some that will run upside of 60 to 70 miles per hour."

So what does the law say about kids and ATVs?

"One, they're not legal to operate on the highways period," Hood said. "Highways and streets are a big no-no with all terrain vehicles or UTVs, and they need to make sure that they do understand that when they do operate them, they're subject to the same rules and regulations in general."

Hood's best advice? Even though it may be tempting or seem like a treat for the kids, don't give in; it's not worth the risk.

"Grandkids go 'Come on Pawpaw, let me ride it,' and they break down and let 'em ride it," Hood said. "That's a big risk. The worst thing in the world is for a young child to be hurt or injured. If you get a head injury to a child, that can cause permanent damage. It can cause paralysis, or a broken bone."

Another deterrent? As with a recent ATV accident in which two children were thrown out in Tuscola, the responsible party will be ticketed for operation of an unlicensed vehicle on the road.

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