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ATV enthusiasts must exercise more caution

May 29, 2018 GMT

It’s one of those statistical categories in which being a leader is nothing to brag about. In this case, it represents more pain and suffering for more people.

The category involves deaths related to using all-terrain vehicles. Unfortunately, West Virginia is a leader, with the highest rate of ATV deaths per capita. Considering the state’s rugged terrain, small population and many residents’ affection for ATVs, that’s not a surprise.

But when you consider the raw numbers — the total number of deaths — West Virginia is still among the leaders. From 1983 through 2016, 753 people died in ATV accidents in the state, second only to Texas, which had 805 during that period, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, keep in mind that Texas has a population more than 15 times greater than West Virginia’s.

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The numbers are relevant right now because May through October is typically the deadliest season in terms of ATV fatalities, so the likelihood of fatalities is growing greater day by day.

What is particularly troubling is that health officials are reporting that they are seeing a spike in ATV-related injuries already — more than is typical for this time of year. Cabell Huntington Hospital, which serves a large swath of southern West Virginia, reported last week that 30 inpatient hospitalizations due to ATV accidents have occurred there since March. That does not count the numerous emergency room patients discharged without an overnight stay. A hospital spokeswoman said besides an increase in the number of injuries, the severity of injuries also has increased over years past.

That’s not the way to head into the height of the outdoor recreation season.

The reasons given for West Virginia’s vulnerability to ATV deaths and injuries are numerous. Lack of good roads with adequate shoulders, where ATV drivers area allowed to travel, is one of them. But lack of common sense contributes in many cases. Jenny Murray, director of trauma services at Cabell Huntington Hospital, said the majority of ATV hospitalizations there this spring show signs of one or more dangerous practices — such as riders not wearing helmets or protective clothing. And about half of the cases of adults who were injured involved alcohol — a no-no whether on a roadway or on a trail. Excessive speed is also cited as a factor by safety officials.

Like so many things, the best way to reduce the tragic numbers is ATV users taking personal responsibility for their safety as well as the safety of others. To do that, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends ATV drivers and passengers should always wear a helmet, avoid alcohol, don’t allow more riders on an ATV than it is built for, be sure to have proper training, avoid paved roads and don’t let children under 16 operate an adult ATV.

None of those safety precautions are difficult to follow. And doing so can save lives.