ATV fatality renews CALL for safe riding

July 16, 2018

BASS LAKE — Summer means ATV season, and while riding off-road vehicles can be fun and exciting, it can also be deadly, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Though fatal ATV accidents have fallen since 2016, partly due to a new helmet law, DNR officers continue to warn riders to follow laws and common-sense safety tips after a fatal accident two weeks ago in Starke County.

The victim was David Blessing, a 49-year-old Tinley Park, Illinois, man, who was found underneath a crashed ATV just after midnight on June 30 near Bass Lake.

Indiana Conservation Officers and Starke County Sheriff’s officers were notified that a passerby had found the vehicle, a 2017 Polaris side-by-side, on its side with a person underneath in the 5500 South block of CR 700E, according to DNR Conservation Officer Tyler Brock.

“It appears Blessing was traveling northbound, with the off-road vehicle riding partly in the grass and partly in the roadway when he encountered a sudden drop-off where a culvert crosses under the roadway,” Brock said. “Upon encountering the drop-off, the vehicle rolled onto its side.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, there are between 300 and 400 ATV-related deaths on U.S. roads each year. The highest number occur in West Virginia, which has an extensive trail system for riders.

Indiana saw fatalities spike early in this decade before the new helmet law, requiring all riders under age 18 to wear a helmet.

There were 5 ATV deaths in 2012 in Indiana, 8 in 2013, and 7 in 2014, according to the NHTA. That number rose to 16 in 2015, and in 2016, 23 people were killed in ATV crashes in Indiana, the most ever reported in a year, according to NHTA.

That was one of the driving forces behind the new law, which passed the legislature in 2016 and took effect July 1, 2017.

The “Play for Kate” bill was named for a Warrick County girl killed in a 2015 ATV crash.

Kate Bruggenschmidt was 11 when she died after the ATV she was riding overturned, trapping her underneath. She was not wearing a helmet at the time, and that prompted her mother, Ashlee Bruggenschmidt, to push for helmet safety, and a new law.

It specifies all children under 18 must wear a helmet on or in any off-road vehicle, including ATVs, UTVs, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes on public and private property at all times. Owners who allow children to ride without wearing an approved helmet can be fined up to $500.

So far, DNR says the law has been effective. Since it passed and through Friday, not a single child has died in an ATV crash.

In a Facebook post to mark the one-year anniversary, DNR Law Enforcement posted: “Yesterday, July 1, 2018, is the one-year anniversary of Indiana’s Off-road vehicle helmet law ... since that time we have had ZERO fatalities to anyone under the age of 18. Thanks to all of our citizens for embracing this law and complying with it. Together, we are saving lives!”

Ashlee Bruggenschmidt also marked the anniversary on Facebook: “Zero child fatalities on ATVs in IN in one year is a great accomplishment. This is due to the hard work of so many people: IN Conservation Officers, Play For Kate, trauma teams, the state health department, legislators, and child safety advocates that are putting public safety first. Safety Sam/Sara, our ATV safety trailers, the ATV safety app, and HEA 1200 have played a vital role in this statistic.

“The law, education, and increasing awareness about ATV’s are saving kids lives. We can’t change Kate’s outcome but we are dedicated to changing the outcomes for the kids in IN. The full effect of HEA 1200 will be felt for years ... in honor of the girl who wore the #12 ... who continues to save lives every day.”

Riding with a helmet is the top safety tip for riders, according to the ATV Safety Institute. It’s No. 1 in the organization’s “Golden Rules” for ATV safety. The DNR also says helmets and other safety gear are the best way to stay safe.

That includes goggles, gloves, long sleeves and pants, and boots, because injuries to arms and chests are common while riding through woods or thick brush, according to DNR.

Even ATV MX, a race circuit which will be conducting one of its national championship competitions next weekend at RedBud MX in Buchanan, Michigan, specifies what riders of all skill levels must and should wear.

Helmets, long sleeve jerseys, long pants, and boots that cover the ankles are all mandatory; a chest protector is strongly recommended; and gloves, socks, kneepads or braces, kidney belts, neck braces and goggles are also recommended.

DNR and the ATV Safety Institute also stress that most ATVs are made for only one person – the extra seat room is designed to help riders maneuver over rough terrain, not for someone to ride behind.

Size of the rider is another key, since large ATVs can weigh up to 700 pounds. Children have less body weight and upper body strength, so need to stick to smaller vehicles. DNR statistics show that more than 35 percent of ATV accidents involve rider 17 or younger.

Optional equipment for the vehicle can also be a lifesaver, DNR stresses. A safety kill switch can stop the engine if a person flies off. And a flag on the back of an ATV helps with visibility.

One final warning for riders. You can be arrested for drunk driving on an ATV. In fact, there is no legal blood alcohol content, so even if you have only one drink, you are riding illegally.

Do the rules help?

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 92 percent of all ATV-related fatalities “are the result of warned-against behaviors, such as youth riding on adult-sized ATVs.”

More than half of all persons injured in ATV crashes were not wearing any type of protective equipment; and less than 5 percent had received any type of rider training, according to the CPSC.