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West Virginia works to improve ATV safety

West Virginia had a major problem a few years ago with all-terrain vehicles, leading the nation in ATV deaths among children 18 and younger.

From 1999 to 2006, ATV collisions cost 250 people their lives. This was unacceptable, and the state took action - which paid off.

While federal restrictions on children riding adult-sized vehicles or as passengers helped, two things made ATV riding in West Virginia safer.

The first was construction of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, which began in 2000.

The trails now provide more than 500 miles of back roads throughout Southern West Virginia, which allow riders to use ATVs for recreation safely in an environment that does not put them up against automobiles, trucks and tractor-trailers.

Not only do the trails provide a safe place for families in Southern West Virginia to enjoy their ATVs, but the trails have attracted visitors from around the nation.

The bigger factor may be the requirement, enacted in 2007, that no one under 18 may operate an ATV without a certificate of completion of a safety course from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Although figures are not available, West Virginia has since seen a dramatic improvement in ATV safety, especially among children, Jeffrey Lusk, director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, told the Gazette.

"Our rangers go into schools throughout Southern West Virginia and teach ATV safety," Lusk said. "We've taught thousands and thousands of students."

Nationally, ATV safety has improved.

In 2004, the death rate peaked at 67 deaths per 100,000 children. That number dropped to 42 deaths per 100,000 children.

Although researchers attribute some of that decline to the recession, the progress is well documented.

The efforts by West Virginia lawmakers in requiring safety courses and providing a space to use ATVs safely are exemplary.

West Virginia had a problem and pioneered in addressing that problem.



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