GREENVILLE, Ohio (WDTN) – The accident that ended Trevor Huber’s life is similar to many of the dozens of ATV crashes that happen every year in the Miami Valley.
Huber was riding an ATV in January on Mangen Road near State Route 185 near Versailles. He ran off the road into a ditch. The ATV landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground.
Careflight arrived and flew the New Weston 16-year-old to Miami Valley Hopsital, where he fough tfor his life for two days before dying on Jan. 23.
Huber’s death is the only ATV-related fatality recorded in Darke County this year, but is one of six accidents – all riders were below the age of 16.
Almost all these accidents are preventable if proper safety guidelines are followed and riders wear a helmet and other safety gear, whch makes them even more tragic, especially in the case of child fatalities.
‘You can’t put the genie back in the bottle’
Mark Whittaker, the Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy, said most crashes in the county occur due to similar factors.
“The crashes we see are often inexperienced riders,” Whittaker said. “Especially with kids. They are on ATVs that are too large for them. They can’t handle the weight distribution.
“We’ve had several crashes this year where the riders weren’t wearing helmets. That’s obviously critical safety equipment.”
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Whittaker said the heavy rains this year have been a major concern because it leaves ditches filled with water. In previous years, riders have flipped in a ditch and drowned after getting trapped under the ATV.
Riders often don’t wear proper safety gear. Many don’t wear long shirts or pants because of the summer heat. The biggest factor in ATV fatalities is if the rider is wearing a helmet.
“If you’re going to ride an ATV or all-terrain style vehicle, follow the manufacturers instructions,” Whittaker said. “All of them will say to wear proper Department of Transportation approved helmets.”
Not designed for asphalt
Injury Prevention published a study in 2012 stating over 60 percent of all ATV crash fatalities between 1985 and 2009 occured on roadways.
The study concluded:
- Fatal roadway crashes were more likely than off-road crashes to involve risk-taking behavior, such as carrying passengers.
- Riders didn’t understand the inherent difficulty of operating ATV’s on asphalt and other roadway surfaces.
- Roadway crashes were often combined with higher speeds, greater crash force and a lower use of protective equipment.
- Victims wearing a helmet were half as likely to suffer a head injury
- Roadway crashes were more likely than off-road crashes to involve multiple fatalities.
- Riders didn’t understand the inherent difficulty riding a vehicle designed for off-road use on a roadway.
The statistics are concerning because road use of ATVs has grown in some areas as local ATV clubs have pushed for legislation allowing for the vehicles to be driven on streets. Some towns believe ATV riding helps draw tourists.
According to researcher Mike Maciag of Governing.com, riders often have misconceptions of how dangerous riding an ATV is on a roadway, and that the major safety concern is hitting another vehicle. His article cited University of Iowa research that only a third of ATV fatalities on roadways involve another vehicle.
“It’s part of the culture”
Darke County is 600 square miles and is almost entirely rural, which is similar to many counties in the Miami Valley and Western Ohio.
“The majority (of Darke County) is farm ground, flat and open,” Whittaker said. “That lends itself to be ideal for ATVs. For us, that means we see our fair share of ATV crashes.”
The vehicles are indispensible to anyone who has several acres of land to maintain, let alone farmers, whose livelihood depends on the tools and vehicles they have.
The familiarity has led to many underestimating how dangerous the vehicles can be.
“Human beings become complacent,” Whittaker said. “I’m not surprised they aren’t taking more precautions. That’s exactly the issue.”
Data cited by Maciag showed 35 people killed in Ohio between 2012-2014 driving ATV’s on roads. That was the 10th highest overall total among all states and is three people per million. That’s not counting accidents that occurred off-road.
But unless an accident affects someone personally, complacency often reigns.
“The most common theme I hear, ‘I wish I hadn’t allowed that to happen,'” Whittaker said. “But you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. … They have to learn that this can happen and it does happen.
“You always hear, ‘We’ve done this for years and this has never happened.’ So it is part of the culture and becomes part of life. If (an accident) hasn’t happened to you or someone close to you, in that case, you sometimes lose respect for the vehicle.”