COLUMBUS — Paige Clune doesn’t remember when she fell from her all-terrain vehicle in a crash, but reminders of the accident have lingered in the decade since.
Clune was 12 years old when her family traveled to southeastern Ohio to ride their ATVs. Clune was in an ATV side car when the vehicle went over a rainwater-filled pothole that didn’t look as deep as it was.
She ended up with her head between the side car’s cage and the ground and suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs on both sides of her body, and a puncture of her left eardrum, plus other injuries.
“After we tipped, I sat up. They were all looking at me really scared, and, I was like: ‘What’s wrong? I feel fine,” Clune said. “My body went through so much trauma that I didn’t feel anything, actually.”
Clune was one of an estimated average of 31 children a day who are injured while riding an ATV, according to a new study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus that looked at ATV-accident data collected from emergency departments between 1990 and 2014.
In that period, about 11,000 children per year were injured in accidents involving the four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles, which can reach 80 mph.
By some accounts, Clune, now 21, of Maria Stein in Mercer County’s Marion Township, was one of the lucky ones.
On Monday, Catherine Burdorf, 23, of Pleasant Plain in Warren County’s Harlan Township, died at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center from an ATV accident, according to the Hamilton County coroner’s office. Authorities are investigating.
Although ATV accidents have declined in recent years, they “remain too frequent and can have long-term consequences,” said Dr. Kris Jatana, a co-author of the study and a pediatric head and neck surgeon at Nationwide Children’s.
“I’ve seen far too many injures from ATVs, specifically to the head and neck area,” Jatana said. “It can have a serious impact on children, but can also be life-threatening.”
The study that Jatana co-authored found that about 30% of the youths injured on ATVs were ejected. An additional 19% were injured in a crash, and 16% were involved in a rollover.
More than 15% of injured youths were admitted to a hospital. Those riding on a road were 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized, according to the study.
Those younger than 12 accounted for 46% of the children and teens injured. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that riders should be at least 16.
“ATVs are powerful machines, and they are designed for off-road use,” Jatana said. “To drive them, (children) need to have mature judgment, coordination, strength and moment-to-moment decision-making.”
ATVs for sale at Independent Motorsports on South High Street in Columbus have a sticker that says they shouldn’t be used by children younger than 12, although the store can’t police what parents do after they take the vehicles home, said sales manager Mark Goolie.
Although ATVs can be dangerous, Goolie said several safety measures can prevent injuries. He recommends that riders always wear helmets, and he said today’s ATVs offer parents more control. They can limit the speed of an ATV through a mechanism attached to its throttle. Some ATVs also offer a remote “kill switch” that parents can use if they don’t like how their child is using the vehicle, Goolie said.
“Head injuries are nothing to play with,” Goolie said. “You’ve got to make sure (the ATV is) sized properly and make sure they’re responsible enough to follow directions.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting what people can do indoors this summer, ATVs have been selling fast at Independent Motorsports, Goolie said. He had only one left in stock this week.
Parents who are skittish of ATVs for their children should instead consider a dirt bike, Goolie said. Dirt bikes are safer and easier to ride, Goolie contends, which is why he said he’s teaching his daughter to drive a dirt bike first.
Clune’s 2011 ATV accident left her in a coma for a week and then recovering for two months in Nationwide Children’s.
Scars remain today, and although her broken bones healed, her eardrum did not; she’s now deaf in her left ear.
But Clune hasn’t let the accident define her or prevent her from pursuing her dreams. She attends Wright State University’s Lake Campus on Grand Lake St. Marys. She’s studying early childhood education and hopes to teach second or third grade someday.
And it took a while, but Clune did get back on an ATV. Her family got rid of most of their ATVs. Eventually, after several years, her family bought a Honda Pioneer ATV, and her father equipped it with every safety feature imaginable, including nets that are designed to catch a rider who otherwise would be ejected, Clune said.
“No matter what, just wear a helmet. Even if you have a seat belt, bad things can happen. Your head can still hit things,” Clune said. “I wasn’t wearing one when I was on four-wheelers … I thought it was more like a car, but it’s still not enough to protect your head.”
Cincinnati Enquirer Reporter Segann March contributed to this story.