Haley was crossing Lee County Road 300 on her four-wheeler when a fast-moving car hit the girl, severing her brain stem. She died in the hospital after being kept alive on life support. A friend of Haley’s who was riding with her was crushed and spent several months in the hospital recovering.
When he looks back at that day, Moody said he blames one person – himself.
“I shouldn’t have let her ride on the road,” Moody said. “Riding on the road is dangerous because cars don’t pay attention to four-wheelers. They just don’t need to be on the roads at all. The car was going too fast that day, but Haley was also in the wrong, so I lost my baby and it’s partly my fault.”
Moody has not owned a four-wheeler since Haley’s death and now faces a tough decision with his 12-year-old son, who wants a dirt bike. Moody received a scare when he heard his son had been injured in a four-wheeler accident a few months ago, but later found out another boy had been injured instead.
“I am scared to death to let him have a dirt bike,” said Moody. “I’ve seen what these things can do. I’ve lost one child to an ATV and I’m not losing another one. Parents, please make sure your kids are riding these machines the right way. They aren’t meant for the roads. I learned that lesson too late. I had to lose my beautiful daughter to learn it.”
The summer season when many people enjoy the outdoors on different types of motorized pleasure vehicles is ending, but with the approaching hunting season, cautions on riding all-terrain vehicles – ATVs – are still crucial.
The increasing number of people dying in four-wheeler accidents is cause for concern.
So far this year eight people have died in Lee County in off-road vehicle accidents, as well as at least three others in Itawamba and Union counties.
ATV fatalities up
Deaths on ATVs have been steadily increasing since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission started keeping those statistics in 1985. With the popularity and the versatility of the vehicles growing, those numbers aren’t expected to decline.
In 1985 there were 251 ATV deaths reported. It jumped to 750 in 2006 as a result of the vehicles’ rising popularity.
“Those numbers show how much ATV use has increased since 1985,” said Tom Yager, vice president of the ATV Safety Institute. “These vehicles are everywhere and everyone has them. Whether you use yours for hunting, fishing, recreational riding, farming or just to ride around your property, ATVs are mainstays in everyday life and that adds to the increased accidents and deaths.”
In 1985, about 400,000 ATVs were in use, but in 2007, that number had risen to 9.5 million, Yager said.
Since 1999 more than 5,000 people have been killed on ATV accidents. From 1989 through 1998 fewer than 2,000 were killed in ATV accidents, according to the ATV Safety Institute.
Youth deaths account for about one-fifth of all ATV fatalities and about a quarter of all ATV injuries.
Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine-Green said six of the ATV fatalities she has handled this year have been teenagers.
“So many times I see teens and children die on ATVs because they just are careless,” she said. “They ride close to home, so they don’t wear helmets or other protective gear, or you’ll see them riding on the roads, which is against the law and dangerous. It seems like they are more affected by injury and death on ATVs because they are just not careful.”
Brandon Goodard, 21, does a lot of off-road riding on his 750 Brute Force. Even though he said he does wear a helmet, he knows something bad can happen with the jerk of the handle bars.
“I’ve seen people get hurt really bad on four-wheelers so I know they aren’t toys. “Us young people have to think more about safety than just having fun.”
When riding ATVs, size matters, Yager said.
“You have kids riding machines that are just way too big for them,” said Yager. “That is one of the biggest contributors to accidents among younger riders. Kids should not ride machines built for adults.”
ATV operators under the age of 16 are four times more likely to have an accident than older riders, according to the National Agriculture Safety Database. That’s why some states like Alabama, Arkansas and Florida have passed minimum age requirements and other laws for ATV riders, also mandating the use of safety equipment and safety education courses.
Age restrictions vary from state to state. In New Mexico it is legal for anyone 6 and older to operate an ATV and in West Virginia the legal riding age is 18. Mississippi has no such mandates for ATV riders.
Other prevention strategies include educating parents and youth about the skills needed to operate an ATV, the importance of supervision based on developmental skill level, personal protective equipment, having an ATV that is appropriate to the size of the operator, and the dangers of having passengers on ATVs.
The ATV Safety Institute offers a course at a number of locations throughout the year that is free if you buy a new ATV, but has a registration fee for others. Individuals can call (800) 887-2887 or visit ATVsafety.org.
Ken Winter, owner of Tupelo Powersports, said he and his staff routinely refer ATV buyers to sign up for the course.
Like Yager, Winter emphasizes how important it is for a child under 16 years old to use an ATV that is the right size, and for everyone to wear a helmet when operating an ATV.
ATV size recommendations from the ATV Safety Institute are:
- Age 6-12: engine size 70 cubic centimeters.
- Age 12-16: engine size 70-90 cc.
- Age 16 and older: engine size over 90 cc.
Knowing the terrain where riding is important, Winter said.
“These are really safe vehicles if properly operated,” he said, “but most problems are caused by speeding on unfamiliar terrain. You’re speeding through the woods and hit a hole you didn’t know was there and you’ve got a problem.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or email@example.com, or Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safe locations available for recreational ATV users
Riding ATVs on public roads is illegal.
Some riders skirt the law by riding along the shoulder, but the best choice is to get away from on-road traffic altogether.
Two Northeast Mississippi sites welcome riders to take their all-terrain vehicles for hours of riding fun: Trace State Park in Belden and Barnyard Mud Boggers in Fulton.
Trace State Park has 35 miles of trails for ATVs, motorcycles, horses and mountain bikes, as well as 52 camping sites for RVs, tent camping, vacation cabins, golf, nature trails, boat launching, fishing, water skiing, playgrounds, golf and disc golf.
Opened in 2007 by Carson Wallace, Barnyard Mud Boggers is a 715-acre off-road park that has up to 60 trails for skill levels from beginner to experienced riders, including users of dune buggies, jeeps, trucks, dirt bikes, rock crawlers and ATVs. This family-friendly location also offers camping sites for tents or RVs.
“I had a smaller place for about a year that people thought was a really good idea,” Wallace said. “A lot of the landowners where you used to be able to ride weren’t letting people come on their property any more. Now there’s a place where people can come and ride and not get in any trouble.”
– Danza Johnson, Lena Mitchell