With hopes and dreams of one day playing professional football, 15-year-old Bryan Smith worked hard and played hard so he could one day reach his goal. However, while staying with relatives in Houston to visit a school that would further strengthen his football skills, Bryan was in an ATV accident that completely altered his world for the rest of his life.
His mother, Kim Smith, shares, “Bryan was going approximately 60 mph while riding a Yamaha Banshee, an ATV that is no longer in production. He was riding on a paved road when a dog ran out in front of him, and he swerved to avoid it. He was thrown onto the pavement and landed on his head which caused a severe traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, lacerated liver, a broken collar bone, and extensive road burns to his arms, legs, and upper back. He was unconscious when EMTs arrived and was brought to Memorial Hermann Hospital as dead on arrival.”
Despite what he was labeled upon arrival, lifesaving procedures continued, and Bryan underwent four brain surgeries, during which he suffered a stroke. He lost 60 percent of his vision, and he was in a coma for two-and-a-half weeks.
Fortunately, Bryan has made incredible progress since that day, but his case is rare due to how many ATV accidents end in deaths. Bryan will be living with his diagnosis for the rest of his life. Kim adds, “It’s no fun having a son with a traumatic brain injury. Epilepsy will forever be a part of his life now, and he can’t manage his life. His hopes and dreams of playing professional football are over.”
Riding ATVs in Louisiana is extremely common, especially during the summer months. And as temperatures rise and children are out of school, it’s more important than ever to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep our children safe.
Licensed to Ride
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages use of ATVs by children or teens under the age of 16. Karen Ahmad of the Alliance Safety Council is someone who has spent years on the issue, and she elaborates, “Children mature at different rates. Young children simply do not have the strength, skill, coordination, reasoning, and judgment needed to safely operate an ATV. Furthermore, most parents overestimate their child’s maturity and physical capabilities, allowing them to be exposed to this activity at an early age.”
Kim goes on to share that some families in Louisiana have the mindset of “we’ve been riding all of our lives, nothing is going to happen to us.” And unfortunately, many people–especially children–aren’t aware of the damage something as simple as hitting a pothole could do while riding one of these.
“So many kids are riding these adult-sized ATVs, and they are unsupervised. We are allowing children to operate them without licenses and without safety equipment,” Kim notes.
The All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute (ASI), a nonprofit created to expand ATV safety education and awareness, warns families that they should always follow the manufacturer’s minimum age recommendation warning label on the ATV. These stickers could say no riders under the age of 16, 14, 12, 10, and six. For those who do reach the age requirement, ASI still encourages families to always supervise riders who are younger than 16 because ATVs are not toys.
The nonprofit also provides a “Readiness Checklist” to help you evaluate your young riders, and notes how important it is to evaluate your child as objectively as possible because his safety is at stake. The checklist helps to determine where your child is in terms of his physical development, visual perception/motor development, social/emotional development, and reasoning and decision-making ability.
Also, as a parent, knowing everything there is to know about ATV safety is extremely important, not only for yourself, but for your child as well.
Just like taking driver’s ed to learn how to operate a car, taking an ATV safety course to learn how to operate an ATV is highly encouraged. Many ATV manufacturers offer free safety courses to those who have recently purchased an ATV. ASI also offers a free online course to make sure all riders are familiar with their machines and that they are taking the proper steps to ensure their safety.
When it comes to riding safely, one of the most important rules is to always supervise your riders. Karen explains, “There is no substitute for competent adult supervision. Adult supervision is necessary to ensure that kids are not riding something too big and too fast, that they are using safety gear, that they are not riding double, and that they are not riding on roads.”
ATVs are designed to be operated off-road. ASI encourages riders to never ride on paved roads because ATVs are not designed for use on public roads, and other motorists may not see you. Also, the pavement may seriously affect handling and control of the ATV. DOT-compliant helmets, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, and gloves should be worn at all times by the rider, and riders should never carry a passenger on a single-rider with them.
Bryan also encourages riders to “become one with the machine” because knowing what your machine can, can’t, and shouldn’t do will also play a crucial role in your safety. And another important rule: ride at a safe speed.
While Bryan has had a long road to recovery and there are still things he struggles with, he remains positive throughout it all. Bryan recently began practicing meditation, and he does his best to live his life to the fullest. When he looks in the mirror, he doesn’t see his flaws. Instead, he encourages those who do to just be themselves because they will be accepted for who they are. For those who may be going through the same struggles, Bryan encourages, “Stay strong and think positive. Don’t look back, look forward.” ■
The ATV Safety Institute’s Golden Rules
- Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, and gloves.
- Never ride on paved roads except to cross when done safely and permitted by law–another vehicle could hit you. ATVs are designed to be operated off-highway.
- Never ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Never carry a passenger on a single-rider ATV, and no more than one passenger on an ATV specifically designed for two people.
- Ride an ATV that’s right for your age. Supervise riders younger than 16; ATVs are not toys.
- Ride only on designated trails and at a safe speed.
For more information, visit atvsafety.org.