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ND, MN see drop in ATV deaths

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At least four people have died so far this year in North Dakota as the result of all-terrain vehicle crashes.

That is one more than the number who died from such crashes in 2008 and equal to the total number of ATV deaths in 2007.

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Those numbers are far lower, however, than the 13 fatal crashes recorded in North Dakota in 2006, and officials say efforts to train and educate drivers may be one reason for the decline.

Minnesota, too, has seen a drop in fatal ATV crashes in recent years.

The state recorded 24 in 2004. By last year, the number had dropped to 18.

So far this year, there have been two fatal ATV crashes in Minnesota and officials say they're hopeful the final tally will remain below 10 for 2009.

While Minnesota is seeing fewer ATV crashes, when serious crashes do happen they are more likely to involve older riders than younger ones, said Capt. Mike Hammer, education program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforcement division.

He said that may be because older drivers, those in their 40s, 50s and 60s, are not required to take the same training as youths.

In Minnesota, drivers 11 to 15 years old are required to complete a safety course via computer as well as a hands-on ATV class.

Individuals 16 and older - born after July 1, 1987 - are required to complete the computer course but are not required to take the hands-on course.

Hammer said no matter how many years of car-driving experience someone has, an ATV is a different animal.

"I can be driving down a road at 30 mph in my car and crank the steering wheel and I'm not going to roll it," said Hammer.

"If I'm driving down a trail at 30 mph on an ATV and I crank the handlebars. You are going to roll it. No ifs, ands, or butts. It's gonna happen," said Hammer, who added that rollovers are the most frequent type of ATV crash.

North Dakota law states that people 12 to 16 years of age must possess a driver's license or an ATV safety certificate to drive an ATV.

Even so, one state official feels strongly that ATV drivers should be at least 16.

"I think they (ATVs) have their place. I think they're a great vehicle for farm work. But I'm not sure they have a place for children under the age of 16," said Diana Read, injury prevention coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health.

"Children that get on these adult-size vehicles don't realize what strength it takes to control them," said Read, adding that even if a child is riding a relatively small machine they will be much safer if they have an adult nearby.

"I say it in every press release: nothing beats active supervision. And when I say 'active,' I mean being with them," said Read.

Daryl Brandner said supervision is standard practice when his children, ages 13 and 16, ride ATVs.

The president of North Dakota Dirt Riders, an association of ATV enthusiasts, said even though the law allows his children to ride on their own, he worries what other drivers may do.

"When we ride, I usually lead, so if there's going to be an issue I would run into it before they would," said Brandner.

North Dakota had about 11,000 registered ATVs in 2003.

By the end of this year the number is projected to reach 28,000.

Brandner said he was attracted to ATVs because of the escape they provide.

"I like to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world," he said.

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