TORONTO - Every year, 447 Canadian children under the age of 15 are hospitalized for all-terrain vehicle (ATV) injuries and the Canadian Paediatric Society says that number is on the rise.
"Those numbers continue to go up," said Natalie Yanchar, chair of the society's injury prevention committee.
The society is calling for strict regulations prohibiting kids under 16 years of age from riding the four or six-wheeled vehicles until they are older, Yanchar said.
Legislation should be changed to make riders wear helmets and prohibit them from carrying a passenger on the vehicle, the organization said Wednesday in a statement.
Territories and provinces across Canada do not have such legislation in place.
In British Columbia, there is no provincial legislation for riding ATVs, while legislation in Alberta states children under 14 years of age can only operate an ATV on public property while under the supervision of an adult.
Neither province requires riders to wear a helmet or take a safety training course.
Stricter regulations in Nova Scotia require children between the ages of 14 and 15 to be under adult supervision while riding an ATV and the supervisor must have taken a safety training course.
Without uniform measures established across the country, riders will continue to be at high risk for injury, the society said.
Kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 25 are most at risk, but those under 16 are faced with different factors putting them at risk, Yanchar said.
"They have very poor judgement, are very prone to risk-taking, they don't have the size and the strength to operate these vehicles safely," she said, adding it's easier for them to veer off the road and crash into a tree.
"As you get older, you have other risk-taking behaviours, such as use of alcohol and other drugs and that's certainly one of the biggest factors."
The industry and government have told riders for decades to wear helmets and not operate the vehicles with more than one person on them, but not doing anything about it won't prevent severe injuries from happening, Yanchar said.
The CPS is also calling for all ATV riders to take a mandatory training course, but not until courses are evaluated to ensure they are producing safer riders.
"We actually have no evidence training works," said Yanchar. "Training is probably important but it needs to be evaluated if it actually has an effect."
Although the vehicles are equipped with air bags and seatbelts, the rate of injury continues to rise and the society is looking for a way to prevent young kids from getting on the ATVs in the first place.
"There's such a small margin of error before the vehicle flips or you run into a truck," she said, adding that error is even smaller for younger riders.
"Nothing's working and we see more and more injuries."