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Sharp dip in children's ATV injuries linked to high gas prices

Craig Medred
Grade-school kids ride ATVs in the Alaska village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in 2012. Loren Holmes photo

The good news from the national recession and high gasoline prices might be written in the health of children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. A new CDC report concludes injuries to children and teenagers driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) -- a common form of transportation in rural Alaska -- dropped by more than a third between a 2004 peak and 2010. 

Ruth Shults, one of the study's investigators, told the website MedPage that the reduction appears to be due to kids and teens driving less because of high costs. "Our best guess is that much of the decline in ATV injuries among younger riders is related to the recession," Shults said. Both ATV sales and use appear to be down. 

There are, however, continuing problems with injuries, largely focused on those between the ages of 11 and 15.

"This has implications for pediatricians, especially in rural areas," Shults said. "We know that ATV riding is more of a rural activity, and by the time children reach the ages of 11 to 15, they may be riding without adult supervision."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends youth in that age bracket avoid adult-size vehicles and ride ATVs designed for children. Child-size ATVs are, however, rare in rural Alaska where the vehicles -- often just called "four-wheelers'' -- are used much like automobiles for around-village transport.

Whether falling national trends in both ATV injuries and deaths apply to Alaska is unclear. MedPage noted "the study had some limitations. Alaska and West Virginia have previously reported high rates of ATV-related injuries but were not included in the database."

Gasoline, however, is now prohibitively expensive in significant parts of rural Alaska where many live at or near the poverty line. It would be expected to encourage people to walk more and drive less.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com