DNR: Awareness helped in success of ATV helmet law


More than one year after a state law mandating children wear helmets while operating off-road vehicles went into effect, the number of off-road vehicle fatalities in the under-18 age group has flatlined statewide.

Not a single child has died on one of the vehicles in Indiana since the law went into effect on July 1 of last year.

The absence of deaths is a significant departure from years past. According to numbers from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, from 2012 through the end of June 2017, 28 individuals under the age of 18 had died as either a driver or passenger of an off-road vehicle.

Jim Hash, a DNR conservation officer, said a publicity campaign sharing statistics on how many kids had been seriously injured or killed by not wearing a helmet helped to get parents on board.

“That, coupled with the law itself, I think people are really taking note of that and they’re putting their kids in a helmet like they should,” Hash said.

According to numbers from the state’s DNR, in 2016, 23 deaths resulted from off-road vehicle accidents — seven of which were children under the age of 18. Last year, 17 accidents were fatal — three of which were children who died prior to the passing of the helmet legislation.

The year-old law mandates that minors operating or riding all-terrain vehicles, utility vehicles, side-by-side vehicles, dirt bikes and any other cross-country vehicles wear a helmet that meets the U.S. Department of Transportation standards. Approved helmets have a sticker on the outside back of the helmet with the letters “DOT,” which certifies that it meets or exceeds the standards.

Under the law, owners of off-road vehicles who allow children younger than age 18 to ride their vehicle without wearing an approved helmet can be charged with a Class C infraction, which carries a maximum penalty of $500. The law applies both on public and private property.

Hash credited the accessibility of social media with spreading the word about the law and dangers of being on the vehicles without a helmet. He also said animatronic ATV rider Safety Sam has been a “vital tool” in engaging youngsters.

Adults are not required to wear a helmet, but Hash encourages it.

“If you’re going to be riding any type of off-road vehicle, wearing a helmet will save your life if you get into an accident or situation where the potential for head trauma exists,” he said.

Former State Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth — who represented House District 74, which includes portions of Spencer, Dubois, Perry, Crawford and Orange counties — authored the ATV helmet legislation. An 11-year-old Warrick County girl’s 2015 ATV death in Spencer County was the inspiration behind the bipartisan legislation.

Since 2010, two teenagers have died in ATV accidents in Dubois County.

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