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By James Hanseen

The tragic injury of six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen was a stark reminder of the dangers posed by all-terrain vehicles.

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen arrives at Craig Hospital in Englewood where she is undergoing rehabilitation therapy. Photo: John Leyba, The Denver PostVan Dyken-Rouen was driving an ATV on her way home from dinner when she hit a curb in a restaurant parking lot, sending her and the vehicle off a five-to-seven foot drop. Van Dyken-Rouen, who was not wearing a helmet, was found unresponsive at the scene and suffered a severed spine. The accident took place in Arizona, where on-road ATV operation is permitted and helmets are only required for those under the age of 18 who are operating an ATV on public lands.

To learn more about how states regulate ATVs, read NCSL’s 2014 Transportation Review on ATV Safety and Summary of ATV Safety Laws by State.  

Certain risks of operating an ATV are inherent, similar to the risks we take every day getting behind the wheel of a car. However, a recent study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission identifies the risks posed to specific groups of ATV riders and by specific circumstances of ATV operation. The study also analyses ATV injuries and fatalities in relation to these groups and circumstances. This information is useful to put Van Dyken-Rouen’s accident into perspective.

  • Van Dyken-Rouen’s accident occurred on a paved surface, where 10.4 percent of ATV injuries occur. Similarly, although not encompassing non-road paved surfaces like driveways or parking lots, 34 percent of ATV fatalities occur on paved roads.
  • Van Dyken-Rouen was 41 years old at the time of the accident; 12.1 percent of ATV injuries and 14.2 percent of fatalities happen to people between ages 36 and 45. Conversely, 76.7 percent of ATV injuries and 60.2 percent of fatalities happen to people 35 and younger.
  • Women constitute 30.6 percent of ATV injuries, but only 14.2 percent of fatalities.
  • Van Dyken-Rouen was not wearing a helmet, like 56.9 percent of people injured in ATV accidents. Of ATV fatalities, 66 percent of victims were not wearing helmets, 13.8 percent were wearing helmets. It's not known if the remaining 20.2 percent were wearing helments.
  • Van Dyken-Rouen, like 76.5 percent of people injured in an ATV accident, was the driver of the vehicle. The driver is the victim in 89.3 percent of ATV fatalities.
  • Van Dyken-Rouen’s spine was severed in the accident, which is classified as a torso injury. Torso injuries make up 34.1 percent of all ATV injuries, extremities injuries constitute 38.7 percent, and head injuries represent 27.2 percent. For ATV injuries causing death, 41.3 percent are head injuries, 10.3 percent are torso injuries, and 6.6 percent involve the head and torso.
  •  Van Dyken-Rouen’s ATV overturned after it hit a curb. Seven percent of ATV accidents causing injury are initially caused by the vehicle hitting a hole or bump and 60.3 percent of injuries involve a vehicle overturning. For ATV fatalities, 0.8 percent of accidents are initially caused by contact with surroundings and 60.0 percent involve an overturning event.
  •  Van Dyken-Rouen’s husband, Tom Rouen, a former punter for the Denver Broncos, said she had not been drinking alcohol before the accident. By comparison, 95.9 percent of people injured in an ATV accident were sober. On the other hand, in 27.4 percent of fatal ATV accidents, the driver has consumed at least one alcoholic beverage before the accident (39 percent of drivers are sober and 33.7 percent is unknown).

In the face of these risks and the growing popularity of ATVs across the nation, states are increasingly debating legislation on ATV use, with some states looking to expand ATV access while others are focused more on heightening safety restrictions.

Currently, eight states permit expansive on-road ATV use, another five states allow limited roadway use (on a one lane road, when highway is impassible), and Delaware forbids all on-road use. The majority of states only permit ATVs to cross roadways, although 11 states provide agricultural or other exceptions (hunting, emergency personnel, etc.) which sanction additional on-road access to crossing. Further, 31 states require ATV riders to wear a helmet and eye protection. In 19 of these states, however, the requirement only applies to riders who are either under 16 or under 18, depending on the state.

James Hanseen is an intern in NCSL's Environment, Energy and Transportation program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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