By Dawn Motter, Emma’s Mom
Everything about that Sunday morning felt pleasant and familiar. With coffee brewing in the kitchen, we slowly began packing for our trip home from our farmhouse in North Georgia.
It had rained all weekend, so with the first sign of sun the kids were eager to ride one last lap on our four-wheel, all-terrain vehicle (ATV). My husband and I watched from the front porch, sipping our first coffees of the day, as the engine roared to life and they drove down the cleared path.
This was a common scene for our family. My children, then 11-year-old Emma and 9-year-old Luke, had grown up riding ATVs. They had been riding since they were little, always with every safety precaution in check. As they grew older, I relaxed and became comfortable with the idea of them operating the heavy machinery. For them, riding an ATV was like fish taking to water.
But that morning, I wish I had remembered the risks associated with riding these vehicles.
After watching them ride a few loops around the field, my husband and I decided to get back to packing. But the moment we walked through the door, we heard their screams.
In a devastating panic, we sprinted in their direction, with my husband heading to my daughter and me reaching my son first. He was covered in blood, and as I helped him to his feet he kept saying, “I don’t know where my shoes are.” But his shoes were hardly our biggest concern.
“We have to go,” he said. “It’s bad. Get in the truck, now.”
We raced to the nearest hospital, knowing that the precious time spent waiting for an ambulance might be too long for our daughter’s survival. An ambulance whizzed past us on the road, so we sped along behind it to the nearest emergency room.
Once she stabilized, she was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Chattanooga and taken into surgery upon arrival. That next weekend, she was finally stable enough to for transport to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. During the next nine months, Emma underwent 15 surgeries and multiple skin grafts at Children’s to reconstruct her arm.
Emma is a fighter. She is tough. She is determined. If someone tells her she can’t so something, she will work hard until she can. Her resilient spirit got her through such a devastating injury and arduous recovery.
We know we made mistakes, and we hope sharing our story will encourage others to exercise greater caution when letting children of all ages ride ATVs.
Our difficult experience has taught us that parents should never get too comfortable around ATVs, because they can cause harm even if you follow all the safety precautions. It’s difficult to predict how a child will react when something goes wrong, which is why a child’s risk of experiencing an ATV accident is higher than an adult’s. In our case, it’s likely that our children accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal, causing them to lose control quickly.
Thankfully, our story has a happy ending. Emma is on her middle school basketball team and back to practicing cheerleading tumbling skills. But before your children take their next lap, consider these safety tips:
- No Ride-a-Longs – ATVs should be used by only one person at a time, no riders. Do not hold young children in your lap.
- Always Wear Protective Gear – Helmets are especially important in reducing the risk of head injury. Protective gloves and heavy boots can also help reduce injuries.
- Slow Down – With their large, soft tires and high center of gravity, ATVs can reach speeds of up to 50 mph or more. Almost 60 percent of accidents involving ATVs result from tipping and overturning.
- Keep Kids Away – Children under 12 years of age should not operate any ATV. Younger children do not have adequate physical size and strength to control these vehicles. Nor do they have the thinking, motor, and perceptive skills to operate a vehicle safely. The minimum age for operating an ATV on or off the road should be at least 16 years old.
- Stay Off The Road – Never operate an ATV on pavement or on a public road. Almost 10 percent of injuries and over 25 percent of deaths occurred while the ATV was on a paved road.
Read a full list of ATV safety tips here and see a FOX 5 Atlanta story about our experience below: