The “Work Smart, Ride Safe” campaign for National Farm Safety Week is focused on All-Terrain Vehicles.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 410 Americans died in ATV wrecks in 2008 and another 135,000 were injured while on an ATV that year. Carolyn Sheridan, director of the “AgriSafe” program at Spencer’s hospital, says ATVs are commonly used in the farming community.

“Every year, unfortunately, we hear some dramatic statistics about ATVs,” Sheridan says. “…About 40,000 children under the age of 18 are treated in the emergency departments for ATV-related injuries each year.”

Two Iowa teenagers were killed in ATV wrecks in August.

Sheridan says people tend to underestimate the potential dangers involved with operating ATVs. “We kind of forget how much their weigh,” she says. “You know, they weigh over 800 pounds generally and not a lot of them have roll-over protection and, if they do, we don’t always have our seat belts on.”

Safety experts say a child under the of 16 should never be allowed to use an “adult-sized” ATV.  Sheridan says there are some common sense rules to follow. “Make sure you wear a helmet and they’re not generally meant for passengers and make sure that you know the terrain,” Sheridan says.  “…And as parents, we need to make sure the one that your child is driving is not too big.”

According to Iowa law, no one under the age of 12 is allowed to operate an ATV unless they’re on private land.  Those caught with a passenger on an ATV can be ticketed if the machine isn’t designed to carry a passenger. Safety experts also warn against driving ATVs on paved roads, as the machines are difficult to control on pavement.

National Farm Safety and Health Week runs through this Saturday.

(Reporting by Dan Skelton, KICD, Spencer)