UK studies child safety in ATVs

This week, a group of UK faculty and students began the first scientific study on child safety when using all-terrain vehicles.

“All good science begins with data,” said Dr. David Pienkowski, director of Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory and associate professor of biomedical engineering and orthopedic surgery. “Data begins research hypothesis. We are answering questions and asking new ones.”

Pienkowski, a primary investigator in the research, said that to his knowledge, this is the first study to research the biomedical effects of youth ATV usage.

Kentucky is second in the nation for ATV deaths, with more than 140 reported from 2003 to 2006, and No. 1 in the nation for ATV deaths in ages 21 and under, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Pienkowski hopes UK’s research, when added to those statistics, will encourage ATV riders to use caution and ride safely.

The research began Tuesday at the Wenner Gren Biomedical Research Facility, where volunteer children, ages 12 to 15, sat on youth- and adult-sized ATVs while researchers measured specific body dimensions and compared those measurements to ATV dimensions.

Incorporating video cameras and motion-capture technology, primary researcher and biomedical doctoral student James Auxier and primary researcher David Mullineaux are able to create 3-D images that tell the position of the subject and the bike, when the subject moves, and which joints move at different angles.

By gathering this data, the researchers will be able to assess how brake lever design contributes to safety when a rider hits the brakes.

Dr. Andrew Bernard, another primary investigator in the research, said he believes many youth are fitted with the incorrect vehicle.

“Since most children injured on ATVs are riding adult-size vehicles, this study will attempt to determine the fit between a child and a vehicle that is adult-size,” Bernard said.

One volunteer’s mother pointed out that children grow at different ages, which could determine the fit of the ATV they ride.

“They need to change the guidelines so that it isn’t age the age of the child, but the size,” said Marcel Washington, whose son Anthony is a participant in the study

While the initial findings from the research, also known as Phase One, will not be published until the end of the year, Jennifer Fommen, a former UK trauma nurse and the trauma outreach coordinator for the investigation, said there are ways to take preventative action and avoid injury now.

“We need to stress the importance of wearing helmets,” Fommen said. “Working in the ER, I would see a lot of unnecessary injuries. By wearing a helmet, you reduce your chance of brain injury by at least 85 percent.”

While some parents and doctors believe that children should not be riding ATVs in the first place, Pienkowski said he knows they will ride them anyway.

“We know it will happen, and what we’re going to see is what we can learn about young riders, and how this can help customers use ATVs in a safer manner.”