Why surgeons across the world are calling for stricter rules on quads

The rising popularity of All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) brings with it serious safety concerns

Head protection is vital and at present a motorcycle helmet is recommended.4


The number of fatalities and injuries taking place involving All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) on Irish farms in recent years has increased in tandem with the surge of ATV or “quad bike” ownership in this country.

The injuries can often be fatal, because when an ATV overturns, there is nothing to protect the driver’s head or neck, as is the case with a tractor or utility vehicle.

Already this year there have been two farming-related deaths due to ATV accidents.

That is a worrying figure given that we are less than one third of the way through 2017. So is it time to ban them altogether or is there a case for less drastic action?

All riders need to know the manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity and drawbar loading limit.4
All riders need to know the manufacturer’s recommended towing capacity and drawbar loading limit.
It is estimated that there are now around 10,000 ATVs in use on farms around the country. The farm vehicles are falling in price and so are becoming more accessible to all.

The ATV has a bad name when it comes to safety.

But there is no doubting that when used properly with the necessary personal protective equipment, they can be a real aid on the farm, whether it is for fencing, helping sheep farmers through the lambing period, cleaning out stables or bringing cows in for milking.

Regardless of the application, safety is paramount.

It is imperative that farmers who decided to purchase an ATV take the time to familiarise themselves with safe driving practices and prevent children (those under 16 years of age) from driving the ATV in all circumstances, including off road. Children are the most at-risk group.

It says it all when spinal surgeons across the globe have called for reform of the legislation surrounding the use of ATVs.


Here in Ireland, doctors working in Accident & Emergency units all over the country have been calling for legislation banning the use of quad bikes by children under 16 years of age.

Doctors Justin Curran and Colman O’Leary in Limerick’s Mid-Western Hospital have dealt with a number of children injured in accidents involving ATVs. Both men highlight the fact that young children lack the physical size and strength, cognitive abilities, motor skills and perception to safely operate ATVs.

Despite this, both have seen cases of children being killed or seriously injured while using ATVs.

Farms represent a unique situation where children are exposed and naturally drawn to the excitement of driving ATVs at speed.

Unlike tractors, and to the dismay of many health campaigners, these vehicles are not yet legally required to have rollover protection bars fitted.

The result is that when an ATV overturns, there is no cab or support structure to protect the driver’s head and upper body. Whether wearing a helmet or not, this means the driver’s head and spinal column are at major risk of serious injury on overturning.

A 2008 US-based study found the main mechanism of spinal cord injury from an ATV-related accident is an axial compression type fracture.

In this type of injury, excessive vertical force is placed on the spine, forcing pieces of broken vertebrae to move outwards in a horizontal direction.

The injury location is usually between the C1 and C5 vertebrae of the spine, a crucial area with long-term neurological damage highly likely.

The weight of your average ATV will be anywhere between 300-750kg. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this weight can do some nasty damage to the fragile human spinal cord.

Apart from spinal injuries, other injury mechanisms sustained from ATV accidents include upper limb fractures, facial lacerations and fractures of the skull.

Manufacturers have long been promoting the use of helmets for some time now, and those who still refuse to wear protective headgear must be ready for the consequences.