Off-road crashes show riding can be hazardous


The worst thing that ever happened to me on an off-road vehicle or all-terrain vehicle was losing a baseball cap.

ORVs and ATVs are toys for adults to enjoy the outdoors, to carry people into the woods as substitutes for hiking. Not everyone is spry enough for a 10-mile foot jaunt up and down hills. And some people who still enjoy penetrating the outdoors away from roads have made the mistake of getting older.

Seated on a motorized vehicle crossing over muddy bogs, whipping around downed trees, going where no car has gone before can be fun. Until you crash, until you tip over, until you bounce off some big rocks and flip over.

The idea is to act with prudence in the backcountry, prepare for accidents, preferably travel with a partner. But just as automobile drivers drink before hitting the road, fall asleep at the wheel, misjudge the highway or get careless with seat belts, ATV and ORV drivers are susceptible to ill-timed meltdowns, or in some cases, accidents just happen because there was ice on the trail.

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Over the last few months, it has been a jungle out there across Indiana with ATV and ORV driver casualties spread across the landscape. I have received several Indiana Department of Natural Resources notifications about conservation officers rushing to the scenes to save lives — hopefully.

They were assigned to respond to emergencies as if they were summoned to auto accidents. Sadly, sometimes the only thing to do is to pick up the pieces.

In early April, the officers investigated a 911 call in Posey County. A 56-year-old woman was trapped beneath an ORV. Bystanders helped the officers pull the machine off of the woman. The rider was taken to a hospital with head and spine injuries.

Two days later, an ORV crash took place in Kosciusko County. A passenger was thrown and needed CPR from a passerby after the vehicle rolled on top of him. While that was taking place, the driver jumped back on the busted-up machine and fled. The ORV was found 3 miles away, but a K-9 dog discovered the driver. Although the driver displayed a firearm, he was talked down and arrested.

In late May, three teenagers were hurt in a side-by-side ORV accident in Fort Wayne. One was hospitalized, while the other two were given medical care and released. In a foolish mistake, none of the three riders wore helmets or were buckled in with seat belts.

A week ago, in DeKalb County, the driver of an ORV was killed in an accident. The 68-year-old man perished from head injuries after colliding with a Pontiac Grand Am steered by a teenage girl. She was not hurt. Once again, neither a helmet nor a seat belt was deployed by the deceased.

ATVs and ORVs are for escapes, freedom from too much traffic, street lights, congestion and city life. They represent get-out-of-town trips to peaceful corners of the state.

Such vehicles have grown in popularity over past decades. About 40,700 were sold in the first quarter of 2017, the handiest statistics available. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, between 1982, the first year statistics were compiled, and 2016, there have been 14,653 fatalities connected to the off-road/all-terrain vehicles. Of those, 3,232 deaths were of people under 16.

Clearly, the youths of America do not appear to be taking as many safety precautions as they should. What an effort it was over many years for the government to convince drivers to wear seat belts in their cars. People resented being told what to do. Now, we all know that’s best.

One more, last Saturday, a utility vehicle accident in Washington County resulted in a male driver being injured and then arrested for his handling of his machine. A young female passenger also was seriously hurt.

That’s five such incidents I am aware of in a matter of weeks. ATV and ORV riding is supposed to be about having a good time. These seems more like an epidemic of disasters.

It is apparent the rules of the road need to be applied to the rules of the off-road so everyone gets home in one piece.

Oh, never got that baseball cap back, but I haven’t broken any bones chugging around off-road, either.

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