All-terrain vehicles: not-so-silent killers

Boys and their toys a deadly combination, doctor says

Katie Rook, National Post

Published: Tuesday July 22, 2008

A University of Alberta researcher is calling for a national injury-reduction strategy as the number of people being killed or injured on ever-popular all-terrain vehicles in the province soars.

The public now accepts as inevitable serious collisions involving young men on ATVs who have had too much to drink, Dr. Louis Francescutti said in an interview yesterday.

“There is a lot of money flowing in the province. There are a lot of young males in the province who are bored. You combine those things together to buy these toys, and live fast, party fast and die fast is the rule of thumb in Alberta these days,” he said.

The public’s resignation to such a reality reflects a failure on the part of citizens and politicians to acknowledge the province’s high rate of ATV-related injuries and deaths is largely preventable, he said.

“Injuries are so prevalent in Canadian society that we’ve become desensitized to them. We expect there to be three people killed in Toronto with gunshots; every long weekend in Canada we expect 100 people to die on our roadways. So, we’ve come to expect these things,” Dr. Francescutti said.

“If we were to view injuries similarly to how we view other diseases, then we would do something about it. But, unfortunately, politicians and Canadians have this fatalistic attitude: ‘It was an accident, a freak accident, time is up, ticket’s up, wrong place at the wrong time …’ ”

Last Saturday, a 24-year-old Alberta man was killed in an ATV collision in a provincial park. While there is no evidence to suggest that alcohol played a role in the accident, the man is one of dozens of young people in Alberta to be killed in ATV-related incidents.

Between 2002 and 2006, 64 Albertans were killed in ATVrelated collisions, a report by Alberta’s Centre for Injury Control and Research states.

Of those fatalities, 91% were male. More than half of the collision victims tested had consumed alcohol, while 81% of the men tested were over the legal limit, the 2008 report says.

“There is a minority of knuckleheads out there whose idea of a good time is letting the wind blow through your hair while you’re liquored on a Friday night. That’s a pattern we usually see here on a Friday night. People doing stupid things and paying the consequences,” Dr. Francescutti said.

“You can’t blame the machine. I mean, these machines are designed pretty well. You’ve got to blame the operator.”

Figures from Statistics Canada show that in 2004, Quebec reported 64 ATV-related deaths, while 41 people in Ontario died. In both New Brunswick and Alberta, 11 people died.

But as amendments to rules and regulations governing the use ATVs — especially among youths — have brought down the number of fatalities in provinces such as Quebec, the popularity of the machines continues to grow.

A report from the Canadian Off Highway Vehicle Distributors Council states that in 2007 about 171,000 new units of motorcycles and ATVs were sold at an estimated retail value of $2-billion. ATVs accounted for the majority of the units sold.

Raynald Marchand, general manager with the Canadian Safety Council, notes that the rate of injury per [registered] 10,000 ATVs has improved over the past 10 years. “In a way, today, we are safer with ATVs as a whole then we were. However, because we have a lot more out there, from the physicians point of view, he still sees too many.”

Dr. Francescutti, who is also an emergency room doctor, believes policy change will come only when elected officials better acknowledge that many injuries are predictable and preventable. “There are thousands of these [incidents] that go on across the country on an hourly basis. It’s insane that we just sit back and claim that we’re civilized; that there’s no public uproar,” he said. 


 ©National Post 2008


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