Are off-road motorcycles safe for kids? | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Are off-road motorcycles safe for kids?

Jason Eberhart-Phillips

School is out, and the El Dorado County backcountry has come alive with the sounds of dirt bikes.

Today many kids – some as young as 5 – are passing up tricycles and bicycles for powerful new motor-driven trail bikes. On dirt tracks around the county, they are honing their racing skills and perfecting spectacular jumps like motocross professionals do on TV.

It looks like fun, but is it safe?



Off-road motorcycle sales are booming. More than 300,000 trail bikes are now sold each year, twice the annual sales of the late 1990s. Dirt biking is especially popular with males under 30 years of age, and the sport is attracting younger and younger riders every year.

But new findings on the dangers that young riders face may cause parents to think twice before they let their kids hit the trail this summer.



According to a new study from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 23,800 off-road motorcyclists 19 and younger are treated each year in hospital emergency departments. Deaths are relatively rare, but about 39 percent of cases are serious, involving fractures and internal injuries. The age group at greatest risk is 12 to 15, accounting for nearly half of the total injuries.

Injuries typically arise from loss of control of the cycle after striking rocks, holes or other irregularities of terrain at high speeds. On off-road circuits, injuries can also result from hitting another motorcycle. In open fields, unseen wire fences can instantly tear open a cyclist’s throat. Nearly one injury in 10 is sustained during an attempted motorcycle jump.

The study notes that off-road motorcycle injuries among children and teens have been steadily climbing each year since the mid-1990s. Hospitalization rates among these kids are roughly double the rates seen in those injured while bicycling. Deaths most often involve injuries to the head.

California law sets no minimum age for off-road motorcycle use. Helmets aren’t even required when riding on private land. It’s up to parents and other concerned adults to intervene to safeguard our kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents not allow children to ride off-road motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles until they reach the age of 16, and that all riders be required to wear helmets. Their concern is that off-road motorcycle riding requires physical skills and judgment that few children or young teenagers possess.

If you are a parent who permits your children to ride off-road motorbikes, you should talk with them about the potential dangers and discuss safety precautions. You should ensure that they are wearing their helmets and other protective gear. And you should make sure they always have adequate adult supervision when they are riding.

The risks are real, and our kids deserve the safest environment we can provide.

Speak to any health professional who has seen a young life reduced by the tragedy of a serious motorcycling injury. Ask if helmets, age limits and closer adult supervision are good ideas for young dirt bikers. They’ll tell you it’s a no-brainer.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is El Dorado County’s health officer.


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