To little fanfare, by 2010 Mississippi had met its five year goal of decreasing highway traffic deaths by 10 percent two years early. A major part of that decrease was enacting a Primary Seatbelt law in 2006 and the public education campaign about the new law, “Click It or Ticket.”
Mississippians have a decided libertarian streak; we do not like to be told what to do by our government. Our low seatbelt usage and resulting high highway death rate, however, finally convinced state legislators to pass a law that had been shown in other states to significantly decrease highway deaths and injuries. And it worked.
February 9 the Senate passed SB 2196, requiring that children under age 16 wear helmets and pass a safety course when riding ATVs on public lands. Eighteen senators signed on as co-sponsors.
Some of the same opposition that defeated Primary Seatbelt legislation for so many years has prevented passage of ATV Safety legislation up to now. Opponents to helmet laws and ATV Safety Education requirements for children and teens protested that riders should be able to do what they want on their ATVs. Their argument looses all weight when faced with the increasing number of ATV deaths, especially deaths of children, in our state.
In 2009, the last year for which fatality numbers have been released, 10 Mississippi children died in ATV crashes. Many more were severely injured or maimed when their ATV flipped, crashed, or ran off the road. The Mississippi Medical Association, the Mississippi Department of Health, the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, SafeKids, the Brain Injury Association, and state trauma professionals are all supporting an ATV Safety Law.
Mississippi death rates from ATV crashes for children under 16 are increasing at twice the rate of all ATV deaths. We know that states with no ATV Safety laws like Mississippi have almost twice the rate of ATV deaths as states with either helmet or other safety laws. Mississippi is one of 5 states with no ATV safety laws.
If the increasing number of deaths is not a sufficient reason, then maybe the costs to taxpayers will be. The average charge at Batson Children’s Hospital for one patient injured in an ATV crash is almost $17,000. There were 79 children hospitalized for ATV injuries in 2009; one died. The care for injured children who were not wearing a helmet costs more than for those who do, and children wearing a helmet are less likely to suffer brain injuries with long term costs and heartache.
ATV Safety laws in other states have reduced ATV deaths and serious injuries. SB 2196 now goes to the House. It is long past time for this bill to be approved by the House Transportation Committee and passed by the full House. How many unnecessary deaths of children on ATVs will it take to get lawmakers’ attention?
Dr. Tami Brooks
Dr. Rick Boyte
Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics