Fort Worth, Texas,
11:13 AM

What Trauma Expert Hopes Parents Learn From Maddie Spears' ATV Accident

All-terrain vehicles and dangers they pose to children, and young teens

When you get past the tabloid headlines and celebrity name, Maddie Spears is yet another young child critically injured operating an ATV.

The 8-year-old daughter of Jamie Lynn, and the niece of Brittany Spears, swerved to dodge a drainage ditch on Sunday, flipping her ATV into a pond in Kentwood, La. She was submerged under water for several minutes as her parents tried to free her from the all-terrain vehicle’s seatbelt and netting.

Sharon Evans, Cook Children’s Trauma Injury Prevention coordinator, hopes that this tragedy will serve as a reminder to other parents that children shouldn’t be on ATVs.

“It breaks my heart to see a child injured. I hope that people will see the reality of this situation. ATVs aren’t toys. They weigh more than 800 pounds and can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour or more. They are very dangerous for kids,” Evans said. “Children shouldn’t be on them. The manufacturer of the ATV that Maddie was on warns that children under 10 should never be allowed to operate or even ride as a passenger on the vehicle. We’ve seen too many of these injuries at Cook Children’s to think otherwise.”

Since 2009, Cook Children’s has cared for more than 520 children injured as a result of an ATV injury and three have died. The last death was in 2015.

The state of Texas requires that ATV operators younger than 14 must be under the direct supervision of a parent. The minimum age to operate an ATV is 6, and older for ATV engine sizes under 70cc, 12 and older for engine sizes 70-90cc, and 16 and older for engine sizes 90cc and over. An offense of these laws in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages kids ages 16 or younger from driving or even riding on ATVS.

Evans knows no matter how much she warns against it that parents will still let their children ride ATVs. If so, please follow these guidelines:

  • Kids age 16 and younger should not ride an ATV. To reduce the risk of an accident or injury, anyone riding an ATV should follow these tips before and during riding:
  • Take a safety certification program to learn how to operate an ATV safely.
  • Ride an ATV that's right for your size and age. Visit 4-H ATV Safety for information on how to tell if an ATV is right for a rider.
  • Always wear an approved helmet and eye protection. In many states, helmets and eye protection are required by law, particularly for kids.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots to help prevent scrapes and cuts.
  • Only ride during daylight hours.
  • Always ride at a safe speed on a designated ATV trail.
  • Know basic first aid to treat minor injuries, and be able to get help in an emergency.

It's important to never do the following while riding an ATV:

  • Never ride on a three-wheel ATV.
  • Never ride while drinking alcohol or using drugs.
  • Never ride on paved surfaces or public roads (except to cross them).
  • Never exceed the limit of passengers allowed by the manufacturer.
  • Never allow kids and teens to drive another passenger.
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