Motors and Kids, a Bad Mix (Pedcast)

You can imagine in 33  years of practice, I have witnessed a lot of events, many terrifying and tragic for the children involved. I was reminded of one of those events recently when I was reading an article about ATVs or All Terrain Vehicles. Remember, I live in the south where ATVs and dirt bikes are popular in areas where there is a lot of open space. Many of my patients ride these vehicles with their very powerful engines. In my mind, powerful motors and children are a very bad mix. More on that in a few minutes.


The story that flashed back to me while reading an article about ATV injuries in children was actually a little humorous. Part of my routine during checkups is to go over some safety issues with all the school age children. You know, learn to swim, caution about diving, no flips on a trampoline, no playing with fire, explosives or guns as toys, and no motorized vehicles. A number of years ago, I was counseling this one family who had two daughters and lived in a very rural area. I had no idea that the Dad rode ATVs avidly but he did.  One time he brought his older daughter in for a checkup and I started into my litany of cautions.  The daughter interrupted me when I got to the powerful motor caution and she told me a story of a ride she had with her Dad on an ATV. It was an adult ATV and the daughter was riding on the back.  She said her Dad reved up the engine and the vehicle instantly  flipped resulting in the nose of the vehicle becoming the rear  and coming down upside down on them.  The young girl told me that DURING the flip, she screamed…”Dr. Smolen told me not to ride this thing!”  Fortunately, the ATV flipped in an area with a little depression in the terrain and the very heavy, moving ATV didn’t come down on Dad and daughter with all of its force.  They were scrapped up badly but neither sustained a serious injury.  Both had helmets on thank goodness.  Dad did something right that day.


So back to the issue of powerful motors and children… a no brainer bad mix in my mind but I see families who can’t wait to get their little boys on dirt bikes when they are 6 years old. You can imagine in the land of Nascar, speed and power can be an positive attribute for a toy, not a liability.  I know these parents don’t want their children to get hurt.  No I think they are just anxious for their children to enjoy the thrill of speed and power that they enjoy… but at what risk?  According to the Academy of Pediatrics article I was referring to a minute ago, 3000 children under age 16 years have been killed on ATV’s since 1982, 43% of them less that 12 years old. Probably tens of thousands more have been injured during this period of time. Here is a doc Smo pearl for you parents considering the purchase of an ATV or dirt bike for your kids, “A toy that can kill or cause lifelong injury, simply isn’t a toy at all!

But if you insist on allowing your children to ride these powerful vehicles, here are some tips from the AAP that might keep them safer:

  • Make sure your child wears a motorcycle (not bicycle)-style helmet that fits snugly.

  • Look for DOT or Snell ratings on the box. Never purchase a helmet that is too big for your child so he or she can “grow into it.”

  • Suit up your child with padded, reflective clothing and protective eyewear.

  • Do not allow children to ride on the street or between dusk and dawn.

  • Allow only one rider on the ATV at a time.

  • Always supervise children on ATVs.

  • If you are buying an ATV, choose one with a seat belt, roll-bar, engine covers and a speed-limiting device.

Well, thats this week’s installment of portable practical pediatrics. If you enjoy learning pediatrics in this format, take a moment and SUBSCRIBE at my blog, If you do, I will send you an email notice of each new post and you can decide if you are interested in that topic that week. This is Dr.Paul Smolen, hoping that you won’t be too coy, about only buying your children a safe toy.  Until next time.




Smo Notes:




4. © 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatrics