Children increasingly are being hospitalized with injuries — often traumatic brain injuries — from all-terrain vehicle accidents, a new study shows.

A Johns Hopkins University research team found that  4,039 children up to age 17 were admitted at hospitals for ATV-related injuries in 2006. That was 2½ times higher than the total of 1,618 in 1997, the starting point of the nine-year period reviewed in the study.

Among the hospitalized children, those diagnosed with moderate or major traumatic brain injuries nearly tripled over the same period to 657, up from 225. Though helmets have proven effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries, the report said,  the rate of helmet helmet use among ATV riders remains “abysmally low.”

The increase in children’s injuries accompanied the booming popularity of ATVs. Overall, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 8.6 million ATVs were in use in 2006, up more than three-fold from 2.7 million in 1997.

The Johns Hopkins study, which is to be published in The Journal of Trauma,  drew on information from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, a private-public collaboration with one of the nation’s largest collections of hospital care data.

The report, its authors noted, builds on several earlier studies showing a rise in ATV-related deaths and hospitalizations among children following the expiration in 1998 of an industry agreement to reduce safety risks. The agreement was part of a legal settlement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and included improved safety labeling on ATVs and a consumer awareness campaign, among other measures. Most  manufacturers have pledged to continue to uphold the agreement on a voluntary basis despite the expiration.

Nevertheless, earlier this year the Government Accountability Office reported that seven out of 10 off-road vehicle dealers visited by undercover investigators were willing to sell adult-size ATVs for use by children. In addition, Fair Warning reported in March that while ATV manufacturers have developed a model state law with tough safety requirements for ATV riders, the industry failed to lend its support when related safety bills were proposed in recent years in California and Oregon.

Fair Warning noted that more than 10,000 people have been killed in ATV accidents since the 1980s, including more than 2,500 children under age 16.

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