In 2001, nearly 500 deaths and more than 1 million emergency room visits across the United States came as a result of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) injuries. The estimated nationwide cost for ATV-related accidents is $3.24 billion each year. What’s more, a recent study was released in Utah claiming that spine and head traumas caused by ATV accidents are on the rise.

But even more troubling, ATVs have been shown to cause a high number of spinal injuries in children. New research from a number of universities indicated that 7.4 percent of a group of 4,483 children studied over several years suffered spinal injuries while operating the machines. This reflects a 368 percent increase in spinal injuries compared to similar research conducted in 1997. Alarmingly, the average age of riders injured on ATVs was just 13 years old. Young riders are most vulnerable to injuries on these vehicles; in addition to spinal and head injuries, ATVs also are being blamed as the cause of many amputations and deaths.

Rollovers are the most common form of ATV accidents. ATVs can hit speeds of close to 50 miles per hour. Combine that with the vehicles’ high center of gravity and short wheel base, and you have an inherently unstable, fast-moving machine. While turning, one has to lean into the turn to shift the center of gravity, but smaller riders would have difficulty with this on a machine that can weigh up to a quarter of a ton. That is why young, inexperienced drivers are more than two times as likely to crash their ATVs. In the 1980s, ATV manufacturers did away with their three-wheel design because of instability issues. But there has been no move to modify the current four-wheel models in any significant way.

Sadly, more than half the patients who enter an E.R. for ATV accidents were not wearing helmets, making them much more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries.