(08/01/2006)
By Bob Weaver

Parents are buying them for their children like toys, when in fact they're highly dangerous machines when ridden on hard-surfaced roads, according to ATV manufacturers.

West Virginia's death toll from all-terrain ATV accidents has already risen to 37, although that number is unofficial.

There were 40 deaths in 2005, a number which made WV lead the nation in ATV fatalities.

ATV lobbyist Karen Coria says there are lethal loopholes in the legislature's 2004 ATV law, not the least being allowing them to be driven on hard surfaced roads and still allowing double riding.

The machines, unlike motorcycles, were not meant to be mixed and matched with cars and trucks.

Corina says the vehicles and their tires are not meant for pavement and double riding makes them unstable, all of which the WV legislature ignored.

"They were supposed to be off-the-road recreational vehicles," she said.

The legislature has now allowed ATVs on all paved roads that do not have center lines, in addition to permitting them to travel short distances on primary highways.

The legislature did pass a law that mandates helmets for children under eighteen. Only two of the seven or eight under-18 victims were wearing helmets.

The legislature focused on a safety education course for children, which few have taken, with many legislators saying the problem is an educational one.

But the legislature ignored the advice of ATV manufacturers, likely fearful of the recreational vehicle voting block.

There are 2.1 all-terrain vehicles for every household in West Virginia, totaling more than 400,000 machines total in the state, likely the highest ownership in the nation.

It has become a difficult problem for law enforcement, the laws are murky, let alone the problem with expanded riding.

Dr. Jim Helmcamp, the Director of West Virginia University's Injury Control Research Center says laws on the books do not necessarily save lives when it comes to all-terrain vehicle use.

"The legislative part, I think, is fairly weak," he said.

Corina says riders have paid a heavy price for their "free wheeling" on the state's highway, with record deaths and injuries.


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