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Grieving Mom at the Heart of ATV Helmet Bill

Jason Reese

A year ago, 11-year-old Kate Bruggenschmidt went to a teammate’s house between softball games. Not long after, she was dead, long before her family or emergency personnel could get to the house. Kate had been riding a 650-pound all-terrain vehicle (ATV) when it rolled over on her, causing blunt force trauma to the head. She was not wearing a helmet.

Since federal safety regulations don’t apply to ATVs, states are allowed to develop and implement their own laws regarding operation of the vehicles. In Indiana, there is little to no regulation, a fact Ashlee Bruggenschmidt hopes to change. Ashlee, who is Kate’s mother, hopes a new ATV helmet bill will require helmet usage by Indiana children in the near future. Children under the age of 18 comprise nearly 40% of all ATV deaths in Indiana.

Bill is “A Work in Progress”

Representative Ron Bacon of District 75 says the current draft of the ATV helmet bill is a work in progress. Truly, it sounds more like it’s at a very early stage, needing further input from additional constituencies before a draft can really be completed this month. Though Representative Bacon says the bill is likely to include an education component and a helmet requirement for children under 16 or 18, he is also looking closely at Kentucky’s regulations. In addition to a helmet requirement, Kentucky also mandates that the size of the ATV should match the size of the child.

Indiana’s chapter of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE) is wary of legislation on this issue, preferring education instead. At the end of the day, ABATE’s Executive Director, Jay Jackson, says the specific language of the bill will determine whether or not the organization will support the bill.

Even Ashlee Bruggenschmidt understands the hesitation. She believes wearing a helmet would be a parent’s choice in an ideal world. The problem is that in Kate’s case, her parents were not the ones to make the decision. The result was the unnecessary death of a child with a promising life ahead of her.

Sensible Safety

Despite the lack of consistent ATV regulation across the United States, there are basic recommendations echoed by nearly every major ATV and ATV safety organization. The ATV Safety Institute has eight “Golden Rules:”

  1. Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots, and gloves.
  2. Never ride on paved roads. The exception is to cross where permitted by law and in a safe manner.
  3. Never operate or ride an ATV while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  4. Pay strict attention to rider maximums. Never allow additional riders beyond what is intended for the ATV.
  5. Only ride an ATV that is size-appropriate for the age of the driver.
  6. Supervise riders younger than 16.
  7. Ride at a safe speed and only on designated trails.
  8. Take a hands-on ATV safety course.

Riding ATVs is a popular part of Indiana’s summer culture. It is critical for riders, and especially those supervising child riders, to utilize best safety practices in order to ensure the fun continues. Nearly 300 severe or lethal ATV injuries occur each year in our state. If you or your child end up being one of the injured or if someone in your family gets in a fatal ATV accident, the personal injury attorneys at Wagner Reese may be able to help. Call us today, and we’ll discuss what Wagner Reese could do to potentially assist your family. To begin your free consultation, call us at (888) 204-8440.

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