ATV Injuries and Fatalities up in Northland; Teenagers most at Risk

By KBJR News 1

June 12, 2014 Updated Jun 12, 2014 at 8:28 PM CDT

Duluth, Minn. (NNCNow.com) --- School is out, which means avid ATV riders are hitting Northland trails.

"Think about what you are doing," Wayne Laakso said. "Don't start that motor unless you have actually thought out what you are going to do with that ATV."

St. Lukes, the Mayo Clinic, and other area hospitals are reporting an influx of ATV injuries and fatalities; the dangerous downside to a favorite outdoor activity for many Northlanders.

"Just an absolute blast," Laakso said. "You can go places with this ATV that you would never dream of."

Laakso is an ATV enthusiast and is the head instructor of the North Shore ATV club.

Since 2002, Laakso has trained hundreds of families on the ethics and responsibilities of being an ATV rider.

"I don't care if you are going to the end of the drive to get the mail; you should really put your helmet on," Laakso said. "And strap it because it really is worthless if it's not strapped."

Doctors say helmets could prevent many, but not all, of ATV injuries.

Some studies suggest helmets can reduce the risk of fatal head injuries by 42 percent and non–fatal injuries by 64 percent.

"The line we give them is: 'would you put your laptop or ipad on top of your handle bars?' They invariably go 'no'," St. Lukes Dr. James MacNutt said. "Our reply is: 'why are you doing it with your head?' You only get one of those things, you can always replace your ipad."

Dr. MacNutt has seen five cases of ATV injuries in the past few weeks at St. Lukes Hospital.

The injuries range from head and neck to abdominal organ injuries.

"People downplay the risk of ATV use. People go on it way to fast," MacNutt said. "And there is a tremendous tendency to not where a helmet and protective gear to help minimize the injuries."

MacNutt and Laakso say the age range most at risk is those under the age of nineteen.

"He or she really needs to know the serious life long consequences that can happen if you get yourself in trouble with that thing," MacNutt said.

The goal Laakso says is to have fun, but to be responsible.

There are several ATV safety training's being held this summer, including a safety training next week with the North Shore ATV Club. For details on the trainings, follow this link: http://www.northshoreatvclub.org/

Nick Minock