Years ago my dad bought a 4 wheel ATV. Naturally, I thought this was pretty cool and had a great deal of fun driving it around the woods at camp (no, not band camp). I was never hurt while doing this, probably because I’m fairly sensible and have a decent grasp of the physics of moving and crashing bodies.
Apparently I’m fairly unusual. In 2005 there were 136,700 ATV related ER visits (Newsweek May 14, 2007 page 59). Of these 40,000 involved people under 16. Ohio, where I went to college, leads the way: 10,000 ER visits per year. This amounts to a nice income of about $30 million for the hospitals.
Many states have made it illegal for young children to use ATVs and a debate is to take place soon regarding federal restrictions on ATV use by minors. Of course, this raises a variety of questions.
The first question is a practical question: will such laws reduce the number of injuries? Such laws could help-provided that people abide by them. Of course, most ATV injuries seem to be related to poor judgment. For example, the Newsweek article cited above begins with a description of a boy who decided to use his uncle’s ATV after he had been told not to do so. He ended up being seriously injured when he accidentally struck a dog at 60 MPH. Would the law have prevented this? Would the boy have thought “Gosh, I’ll disobey my family, but I must obey the law!” Most likely not. Thus, it seems likely that such laws will not be very helpful. No doubt some people will follow them and it is likely that the police will stop some kids. But I suspect the law will be about as effective as the laws governing underage drinking. That is, not very.
The second question is a moral one. Should the government attempt to use law in place of proper parental supervision? On one hand, it is evident that parents are failing 40,000 children each year by allowing them to be injured on ATVs. Given that the state has a duty to protect the citizens, then it seems reasonable for the state to step in and take action. On the other hand, it would be preferable if steps were taken to improve peoples’ judgment rather than simply imposing another law. After all, the law itself does nothing-it is the actions of people that leads to results. If the law is passed and the poor judgment remains, then the problem will still remain. After all, the law does not make people any wiser or better-it mainly just provides a reason to punish people after they have exercised poor judgment.