Off road, two is greater than four

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Crashes involving four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles are significantly more dangerous than crashes involving two-wheeled off-road motorcycles, such as those used in “extreme” sports like Motocross.

A new study finds victims of ATV crashes were 50 percent more likely to die of their injuries than similarly injured victims of off-road motorcycle crashes, 55 percent more likely than injured motorcyclists to be admitted to a hospital’s intensive-care unit, and 42 percent more likely to be placed on a ventilator.

“There’s a belief that four wheels must be safer than two,” says Cassandra Villegas, a research fellow at The Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Surgery Trials and Outcomes.

“But we found the opposite. People involved in ATV crashes are more likely to die or suffer serious trauma.”

The growing popularity of off-road vehicles in the United States has led to a steep rise in the number of injuries resulting from their use.

In 2000, Villegas notes, there were 92,200 injuries involving ATVs or off-road motorcycles; in 2007, the last year for which data is available, there were 150,900 injuries.

But little rigorous research has been done to determine which vehicles may be riskier than others.

ATVs and off-road motorcycles are designed for recreational use and not for use on city streets; they typically are ridden on trails, sand dunes. and other rough terrain.

Villegas and senior author Adil H. Haider, assistant professor of surgery, reviewed data on nearly 60,000 patients who suffered an injury after a crash involving one of the vehicles between 2002 and 2006.

The researchers don’t know exactly why ATV crashes led to greater injury and mortality.

They say they cannot trace the differences solely to helmet use, even though 60 percent of motorcyclists in accidents were wearing helmets as compared to 30 percent of those in ATV crashes.

Even when both types of riders did wear helmets, ATV riders still experienced worse injuries and outcomes than motorcyclists, Villegas says.

Only a few states have laws requiring the use of a helmet when riding an ATV, says Villegas, and while motorcycle helmet laws are also determined by states, many more have helmet-use laws for motorcycles.

The researchers say it’s possible that ATV riders wear less protective clothing than off-road motorcyclists, sometimes little more than shorts and a T-shirt.

Another contributing factor could be the significant weight of ATVs, which can cause severe crush injuries when they land atop victims and lead to a greater likelihood of internal organ or extremity damage.

Villegas says that the study’s findings may allow parents, legislators, educators, and those in the ATV industry to make better decisions about the use of the off-road vehicles.

She also says that studies like these could help ATV manufacturers design and implement increased safety technology in ATVs, similar to how automobile manufacturers have used research to make safer cars and trucks.

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