FARMINGTON -- Parents have to serve as role models to get children to wear proper gear to protect themselves from serious injury or death while driving or riding on off-highway vehicles, officials say.
Children are involved in about one-third of all all-terrain vehicle deaths and emergency room visits associated with ATV accidents, said Chris Bateman, Davis County health injury-prevention coordinator.
Two fatal off-highway vehicle accidents in two weeks has state parks and recreation officials urging helmet use and education for everyone, especially youths.
A 15-year-old boy died following a snowmobile accident in Wasatch County, and an 11-year-old girl died in an ATV accident in Uintah County, said Hollie Brown, spokeswoman for Utah State Parks & Recreation, which issued the April 18 release urging helmet use.
The warning comes just before the arrival of warmer weather, signaling an increase in outdoor recreation activities throughout the state and the need for the public to protect themselves from injury.
But sadly, the state's two most recent deaths related to ATV/OHV use are not uncommon.
From 2007 to 2009, Utah saw 39 deaths, 1,408 hospitalizations and 10,232 emergency room visits because of ATV/OHV accidents, said Jenny Johnson, media and education coordinator for the Utah Department of Health violence and injury-prevention program.
And many of those injuries or deaths might have been preventable, said Dr. Val Rollins, an emergency room physician at Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton and Ogden Regional Medical Center.
"Head injuries are unfortunately common, and many of them are preventable with helmets," said Rollins, who adds bicyclists to that group of people needing to wear helmets.
While some accidents are unavoidable, state parks officials say equipment and education are powerful tools for preventing accidents.
Local law enforcement and health officials agree and say parents serving as role models would be beneficial in helping children wear proper safety equipment.
"What really needs to happen and what needs to be stressed is educating parents," Bateman said.
Many parents assume their child has been safe riding without proper equipment in the past and is safe riding without it now, Bateman said.
The key is for parents to not allow children to become comfortable riding bikes, ATVs and OHVs without wearing helmets and other protective gear.
"In addition, parents can set a good example by wearing protective gear while on ATVs. Parents need to (serve as a) role model. That is part of the big equation there," Bateman said.
Most ATV fatalities occur when a child is driving or riding on an adult-sized ATV, Bateman said.
"It is important for children to be on (child-sized) ATVs," he said.
Davis County Sheriff's Paramedic Sgt. Susan Poulsen, who responded to an ATV adult fatality a few years ago, said Utah law requires anyone under 18 years old to wear a helmet while driving or riding on an ATV or any off-road vehicle.
"These are avoidable fatalities. With helmets, chances of survival (of ATV drivers and passengers) are greatly increased," she said.
"The public wants to go out and not think about putting on a helmet because our thought process is, 'Nothing is going to happen.' That is why they are called accidents."
Bones break and heal, Poulsen said, but if someone breaks their skull, the injury may never heal.
However, Rollins said, the public is making progress when it comes to helmet use.
"Helmets were not thought of as much a couple of decades ago. I think there has been a lot of good education over the years," said Rollins, adding he frequently sees skiers wearing helmets, which is good.
"But unfortunately, it takes episodes like (the two fatalities) to raise awareness."
Utah law requires ATV/OHV riders under age 18 to wear a properly sized, fitted and fastened Department of Transportation-approved helmet at all times while riding on public lands, said Utah State Parks OHV Program Manager Chris Haller, though it is recommended everyone wear a helmet while riding.
Riders ages 8 to 15 must also complete an OHV education course available online at stateparks.utah.gov/ohv.