All terrain vehicles are generally open four wheel vehicles designed to be used off road on trails, fields, alongside roads, in ditches or on any unpaved area. They are used for things like hunting, hauling equipment for logging or farming, or for pleasure. All terrain vehicles are used safely by thousands of Americans but are generally considered to be dangerous forms of transportation.
In the U.S., all terrain vehicles kill about 700 people per year and injure 135,000 more. About a third of fatalities and injuries happen to kids less than 16 years of age. ATVs are also used in the workplace and kill about 11 people per year. ATV accidents happen because of driver negligence but product liability claims against the manufacturer are common.
The most common injuries sustained in ATV accidents include closed head injury with traumatic brain injury. This type of injury is lessened if the person wears a helmet. Other types of injuries seen in ATV accidents include maxillofacial fractures and injuries, shoulder injuries, fractured wrists, upper extremity fractures, ruptured spleen or liver, pelvic fractures, spinal fractures and leg fractures.
The most common injury is a closed head injury. This can be with or without a skull fracture and can involve bleeding in the brain and contusions of the brain. Comas or death can ensue. The other common injury is maxillofacial injury. In one study, 82 percent of victims were male and about 55 percent of patients required surgery to fix their injury. Two patients suffered enucleation (falling out) of their eye.
Head injuries are often associated with extremity fractures. The most common mechanism of injury include rollover of ATV onto the rider or driver and being thrown from the vehicle. This is the most common mechanism of injury for spinal cord trauma from ATV accidents. The average length of stay for all injuries is about 4.7 days.
Other head injuries are also common after ATV accidents, particularly serious midfacial fractures and orbital fractures. There is, unfortunately, a high incidence of multiple systems injuries such as head, facial, chest, abdominal and extremity injuries all at the same time.
Perhaps the most distressing part of ATV injuries is the number of children being injured each year while riding or driving an ATV. The number of accidents has nearly doubled in the past ten years. Even though they are less likely to be riders of all terrain vehicles, they make up a third of all injuries, some even leading to death.
ATVs have become bigger, heavier and faster such that spinal injuries have increased by 476 percent from 1997-2006. It was found that many children had multiple injuries, both spinal and non-spinal. Most spinal injuries were at a single level. More than half of these kids required surgery to correct their bony and non-bony injuries.
Children are more likely to be injured because of their small size relative to the 500 pound weight of most ATVs. Only 14 percent of this population was wearing a helmet, which would have relieved some of the closed head trauma. Girls are more likely to suffer a spinal injury because of the mismatch between the vehicle size and the size/muscle strength of girls.