Alaska Native children less likely to have been wearing helmet in ATV crashes: study

An ATV drives past caribou horns on one of the dirt roads in the Arctic town of Barrow, Alasksa. (Al Grillo / AP)
An ATV drives past caribou horns on one of the dirt roads in the Arctic town of Barrow, Alasksa. (Al Grillo / AP)
Alaska Native children hurt in off-road-vehicle accidents are far less likely than non-Native children to have been wearing helmets, resulting in injuries that are more severe, said a study published in theInternational Journal of Circumpolar Health.

The study evaluated records of 921 children injured in such accidents from 2001 to 2011. Fifty-one percent of the injured children were Alaska Native, the study said. Of those for whom helmet status was known, only 24 percent of the injured Native children were wearing helmets, while 71 percent of the injured non-Native children were wearing them, the study said. For many of the children injured between 2001 and 2011 — 29 percent of the cases evaluated in the study — there was no information available about whether they were wearing a helmet. Among the injured children, a third of the non-helmet-wearers suffered central-nervous-system injuries, versus 14 percent of the injured helmet-wearing children, the study said. More Alaska Native than non-Native children sustained injuries to their central nervous systems from off-road-vehicle crashes. But being Native did not make the children more vulnerable to such injuries, the study said. Regression analysis showed that the key factor was helmet use, the study said. Thirteen of the 921 children died, according to the study. Six were known to have not worn a helmet, four were known to be wearing helmets and the helmet status of the other three was unknown.

Comparison to previous studies

The evaluated statistics do not necessarily apply to all Alaska children, as they come from an official registry of vehicle-related injuries, the study cautions. Still, the helmet results parallel those in a previous study about Alaska Native adult safety precautions. In that study, published in 2009 in the journal Injury Prevention, only 20.5 percent of the interviewed 3,828 adults reported using a helmet while riding off-road vehicles. The surveyed adults were relatively diligent about taking other safety measures, according to that report; 94.1 percent, for example, said they never drove after drinking. The new study suggests possible reasons why Alaska Native children are less likely than non-Native children to wear helmets while riding off-road vehicles. In rural areas, where many communities are predominantly Alaska Native, off-road vehicles are used for general transportation rather than for recreation, the study points out. “Their familiarity and use for everyday tasks may make such vehicles seem less hazardous to the community at large,” the study said. Helmet use might be particularly inconvenient in some parts of Alaska, the study said. “Acquiring appropriately child-sized helmets may be difficult for a family living in a remote village,” it said. Among the injured vehicle riders, younger children were less likely to wear helmets, possibly illustrating lack of available small helmets, the study said.

Safe Kids Alaska program

Providence Alaska Medical Center, one of the institutions involved in the study, is the lead agency in the Safe Kids Alaska program, which promotes helmet use and other safety precautions. A Providence-affiliated doctor, Christopher Snyder, was the study’s lead author. A surgeon with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Frank Sacco, was also a co-author. The Safe Kids Alaska program, though it has a long-standing campaign to distribute children’s bicycle helmets, does not do the same for children’s off-road motor vehicle helmets, said Sara Penisten, the program’s coordinator. There is a dilemma when it comes to distributing children’s helmets for motorized vehicles, Penisten said. In general, vehicle manufacturers recommend against use of those vehicles by children under 16, she said. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has a similar recommendation, weighing in against children under 16 using adult-sized all-terrain vehicles as drivers or passengers. Yet health officials recognize that all-terrain vehicles are used in Alaska for basic transportation, Penisten said. Convincing children to wear helmets means overcoming some long-standing practices, she added. “Instituting a safety measure that has not traditionally been used is a very lengthy undertaking,” she said. Nationally, injuries to children riding all-terrain vehicles declined dramatically from 2004 to 2010, according to a study by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers that was published last year in the journal Pediatrics. The reasons for the reduced injury rate are unclear,  the study said, but better safety practices – including more use of helmets – might be a factor.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Police in Yukon, Canada recommend making winter tires mandatory, CBC News Finland:  Accidents, suicide most common cause of children’s deaths in Finland, Yle News Russia: Why high suicide rates in Arctic Russia?, Deutsche Welle’s Ice-Blogger Sweden:  Motorists warned to watch out for wildlife on Sweden’s roads, Radio Sweden United States: Suicide rates increase as Alaska communities are farther North, Alaska Dispatch

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