November 19, 2009 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Charleston, SC

It's time for ATV safety law Thursday, November 19, 2009 Maybe you wouldn't let your youngster drive an all terrain vehicle or do so without safety glasses and a helmet. Maybe you would insist that your child take a safety course before setting foot on a four-wheeler.

But unfortunately, many parents in South Carolina don't have such standards, and it is shameful that the state hasn't set its own rules to protect children on ATVs.

Every news story about yet another child in South Carolina getting injured or dying as a result of an ATV accident (there was another death this week) should make state lawmakers cringe and make Gov. Mark Sanford seriously rethink his priorities. Twice the governor vetoed bills that would have set basic safety standards for ATV use by children.

The Legislature should try again and keep trying until the state, like 44 other states, has an appropriate law.

The law that won approval in the House of Representatives and stalled in the Senate earlier this year was called "Chandler's Law" for a 16-year-old boy who was killed in an ATV accident in May of 2003.

The law would bar children younger than 6 from driving an ATV and limit the engine power for drivers between 6 and 16 years old. It would require youths 15 and younger to wear safety glasses and helmets while driving or riding on an ATV. And operators 15 and younger also would have to complete a safety course.

The law would outlaw anyone of any age operating an ATV recklessly or under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances.

Gov. Sanford has vetoed such bills saying they would infringe on personal property rights and freedoms. He also said safety courses would be a hidden tax on families.

But the cost of a safety course is nothing compared to the cost of a funeral. And that's nothing compared to bearing even partial responsibility for a child's unnecessary death.

During the debate this spring, Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, supported Chandler's Law. "I hate to ... require people to do what's common sense," he said, but added that too many children are being injured.

In South Carolina, more than 100 people died in ATV crashes between 1982 and 2007, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Twenty-eight of those were children younger than 16, authorities said.

If those statistics aren't enough to convince legislators to adopt restrictions to protect children by limiting ATV use, perhaps they should see the issue another way -- through the eyes of Dr. Chris Streck. A pediatric trauma surgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina, he has seen broken and lifeless bodies of children who were allowed to drive ATVs, in some instances, before they could even read.

Dr. Streck says South Carolina law should go much further than Chandler's Law. It should allow only people 16 and older with drivers licenses to operate ATVs.

Dr. Streck knows the consequences of ignoring the problem. The state should heed his advice.

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