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Officials warn: Safety first for motorcycles, ATVs

By Staff | May 16, 2009

Summer’s here and thousands of Southwest Florida residents are looking forward to going outside and riding motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles but local safety experts and health workers are warning riders to be careful.
The number of patients being admitted to Lee Memorial’s Trauma Center have increased over the past few years and ATV injured patients are ranging in age from 2 to 18. Syndy Bultman, an injury prevention educator, said the center has seen more injured children than ever before.
And with the weather improving and school ending, they expect to see even more.
“Summer is coming and we know kids are going to be out there and parents need to be aware that they need to follow certain things,” said Bultman.
Injuries from an accident on an ATV can be serious. They include severe head trauma, lung contusions, fractures and mangled extremities, resulting in months of rehabilitation and in many cases a loss of function.
ATV’s are made for children as young as 6 years old, explained Bultman, but in many cases children are riding without helmets and on vehicles that are too large for them to handle. It’s also not an uncommon sight for more than one child to ride on the same ATV.
“They need to be wearing helmets. The kids shouldn’t ride them without being supervised,” she said. “A lot of times you will see kids, if they are out and about in the community, are riding double on ATVs. They aren’t made for that.”
Legally, all-terrain vehicles are only permitted to be operated off-road and on private property, according to state traffic laws. But many riders are using vacant properties without permission from the owner and are illegally riding on the street.
“We do receive complaints from residents, particularly in the north Cape, about people riding ATVs on vacant properties,” explained Connie Barron, city spokesperson. “Occasionally, we get complaints about riding on streets.”
The trauma center recommends that ATV riders always wear a helmet, never ride on public roads, never use alcohol or drugs while operating the vehicle and never carry a passenger on a vehicle designed for one person.
Also, riders should use an ATV that is appropriate for their age and size — under 70 cc for age 6 or older, 70-90 cc for age 12 or older and over 90cc for age 16 or older.
Motorcycle riders — and indeed all motorists — should take special care local roadways as well.
Between February and April there were three serious motorcycle accidents in Cape Coral, two of which resulted in fatalities. On Feb. 1, a Cape Coral man crashed his borrowed 2008 Honda motorcycle into a utility pole and died from his injuries and on April 25 another resident was struck from behind on his 2005 Harley Davidson.
Two motorcycle passengers wearing helmets also collided with a car on April 26 and both sustained life-threatening injuries.
According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, there were 20 motorcycle deaths in 2008, as well as 278 accidents resulting in 204 injuries. Riding a motorcycle by nature is more dangerous, reported the sheriff’s office, because bikers are 37 times more likely to die in an accident.
Driving a motorcycle is more challenging because of its size and maneuverability. Often times an motorcycle can be lost in a car’s blind spot or drivers don’t realize how long it takes for a motorcyclist to change lanes or turn.
Since May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, local motorcycle dealers are stressing safety on the road and are telling other drivers to “share the road.”
“It’s crucial that motorists always make a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections.” said Scott Fischer, owner of the local Harley Davidson retail locations.
The trauma center in Lee County witnessed a surge in the amount of patients as the local population doubled. But, even though the economy leaves little disposable cash for people to buy new motorcycles or ATVs, there is little doubt that trauma numbers will continue to climb.
“It increased when the population started exploding,” said Mark Marcus, manager of the trauma center. “We had a tapering of that with things going on with local economy but we still have a significant number of motor vehicle traumas, which include anything on wheels driven by motor.”
ATV riders can take a safety course for $75 by calling 1-800-887-2887 or visit www.atvsafety.org .