Notice to the tens of thousands of Massachusetts families with All-Terrain Vehicles: If you were ever foolhardy enough to let children ride your ATV, those days are over.
Amid the flurry of bills passed at the end of July was one that, as of Oct. 1, makes Massachusetts the first state in the nation to declare ATVs off-limits to children under 14, the bill’s backers say. The law is nicknamed ‘Sean’s Law’ for an 8-year-old boy, Sean Kearney, who died in 2006 after an ATV accident. Sean had been on a playdate and his parents had no idea he’d be riding an ATV until they got the emergency call telling them he was on his way by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.
Dr. Peter Masiakos, a surgeon who treated Sean there, helped push for the law. “The worst part of my job is telling a parent that they’ve lost their child,” he said.
The latest figures show that about 1,000 Massachusetts children need emergency care each year because of ATV accidents, Masiakos said; one-fifth of them land in the Intensive Care Unit and 35 sustain the kind of serious brain injury that could cost $2 million in lifetime care.
Dr. Lois Lee, an emergency physician at Children’s Hospital Boston, also pushed for the law, having seen too many local children– and referrals from New Hampshire and Vermont — with their brains damaged, their limbs broken, their livers and spleens injured.
“I think parents dont’ realize that these are dangerous machines,” she said. “They’re marketed as toys but they’re as dangerous as a car. You wouldn’t let your 12-year-old drive a car with an airbag and a seatbelt, yet parents let their 12-year-olds drive a 600-pound machine on rocky terrain with no seat belt, no air bag and even no roof.”
The per-capita injury rate for ATVs is higher than for any other form of recreation, Masiakos said.
The Massachusetts law was modeled on a 2004 Nova Scotia law that cut the ATV injury rate in children by more than 50 percent, he said.