Friday, November 18, 2011

ATV Law Good for State

Photo by Axel O'Dell
By Steve Brandenburg
Every day I spend with my children is a blessing, and just hearing them say “I love you” can make a bad day good. In a world with so many dangers, it seems that around every corner awaits some new danger or virus. It seems like a never ending struggle to protect our children. We try to balance being responsible parents while not making it as though our children live in bubbles. As a father, I can’t imagine allowing someone to hurt my child. Even worse, I wouldn’t ever want to be the one to contribute to my own child’s death.
Periodically, the government passes laws to protect children from danger. This was the case in 2007 when the South Carolina House and Senate passed “Chandler’s Law.” Renee Dudley of the Post and Courier reports that Chandler’s Law was named after 16-year-old Chandler Saylor of Swansea who died from injuries suffered in an ATV wreck. However, it was vetoed by Governor Mark Sanford, who killed it before it became an official law. He said it infringed on parental rights. The law would gain new life in 2011 when new Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill into law.
The topic created controversy, and the Post and Courier took a stand in a May 2011 editorial in favor of the law. This new law requires all riders under the age of 15 to take safety training courses before riding an ATV. They must wear eye protection and be accompanied by an adult. I am, however, disappointed that the ATV industry and ATV enthusiasts were able to water down the law. The original proposal said a child had to be 9 years old to operate an ATV, but opponents of the law were able to lower the age limit to 6.
Despite the watered downed version, I support this recent passage of “Chandler’s Law” because it puts parameters on when a child can ride an ATV. For those that don’t provide structure for children, this will theoretically force them to obey at least some rules. Younger children need guidance to stay safe. Most 6-year-olds don’t know how to navigate across a street without looking both ways. Because a young child lacks this awareness, there isn’t any way I would let my child ride an ATV.
I have seen the life changing effects of young people riding ATVs. On December 25, 2007, my wife and I were in the emergency room at MUSC because our two year old daughter was very sick. That is the day I made my mind up that my young children would never ride an ATV. While waiting, we saw two different families that had bought their young children ATVs for Christmas. The young children, like most on Christmas day, were riding their ATVs, and were killed in fatal accidents. Had Governor Sanford not vetoed the bill in 2007, these children might be alive today. As sick as my daughter was, I counted myself blessed because after a few days she would get better. These parents would never hear their children laugh again.
There are several reasons why this new law is good for the state of South Carolina and our children. The first and most alarming reason is that, according to statistics gathered by the SC Children’s Hospital Collaborative and reported in the Post and Courier, over 450 children are injured annually in the state of South Carolina due to ATV accidents. This alone should be enough, but there are supporting facts that make this a good law for South Carolina.
Another reason that supports enacting this law is the fact that young children don’t totally understand the consequences that result from their actions. According to the CDC Child Development page,“8-year old children are developed enough to dress themselves, catch a ball more easily with only their hands, and tie their shoe. In addition, the National Network for Child Care reports that children at this age are beginning to see things from another child’s point of view, but they still have trouble understanding the feelings and needs of other people and they are just starting to learn [how to] to plan ahead and evaluate what they do.” I ask you, if children at the age of 8 are just starting to plan ahead and evaluate what they do, then how can anyone believe they know how to traverse rough terrain, and plan which way to go should an emergency arise while riding an ATV? Also, the brakes located on the handle bars require good hand coordination. I have seen children on bikes have a difficult time doing this, so how can we expect a child going 40 mph on an ATV to do this?
While some might argue that their child is developed enough to operate an ATV at a young age, I don’t agree. Attorney Lindsey O’Neill says that the American Psychological Association reports that “…the part of the brain that is responsible for good judgment and the control of impulses—the pre-frontal cortex—is still immature; consequently, children of this age-period …. don’t have yet the capacity to fully control their impulses.” If a child can’t fully control their impulses, how can they fully understand the dangers associated with operating an ATV? How many times has a young child repeated something inappropriate in front of people in church, store, or friends and family? We attribute it to their youth, and not knowing any better. Why should this be any different?
Most of us have heard that if all else fails, read the directions. We, as adults, would never want to give blood if the people weren’t using the safest practices available. Society would never tolerate an untrained, unsafe pilot flying our families from destination to destination. So why would we allow our children to ride ATVs without the necessary safety equipment or training? At the very least, Chandler’s Law and the law-abiding citizens who adhere to it will increase awareness of safe ATV operation, and will encourage caution. While some might not like the law, it’s hard to argue with the facts.
Not everyone is in favor of Chandler’s Law. One of the biggest opponents of Chandler’s Law is SC Senator Larry Grooms, who argues that requiring children to wear a helmet is going too far. Dudley reports that he says, “I’m very respectful of individual liberties and freedoms, and I don’t want it going too far.” Former Governor Mark Sanford vetoed the passed bill twice because he believed it infringed on parents’ rights.
While I respect the views of others, I disagree with the stance they have taken on Chandler’s Law. We require children from birth to be restrained in car seats. Even at the age of 8 a child must have a seat belt on. Should an officer discover a child has no seat belt on, the parent is cited. So if a seat belt is required in a car, and the child is surrounded by doors, and airbags, then at the very least, a child should have on a helmet when riding an ATV. If we are infringing on parental rights regarding safety on ATVs, then we might need to rethink the seat belt laws.
If we wouldn’t think of letting young children ride in a car without some type of restraint, then why would we let a child ride an ATV unsupervised, without safety equipment?  The injuries sustained from ATVs aren’t usually superficial, and they can’t be fixed with a band aid. Doctors from MUSC told Dudley, “We can fix broken bones, abdominal injuries, and many other things, but brain injuries have a very poor prognosis for recovery.” Unfortunately, these are usually the types of injuries sustained when young children are thrown from ATVs.When parents don’t have the knowledge, understanding or willingness to investigate the dangers associated with ATVs, who should have the final say for a child?
People often resist being told how to parent their children. However, at times laws are made to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Children often don’t have the ability or opportunity to speak for themselves. We live in a society that was founded on the idea that everyone has a voice. This new law gives Chandler the opportunity for his voice to be heard.


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