child-in-motorcycle-helmetKids are required to be in appropriate car seats or boosters just about until they’re in college. So why is it that 90% of states have no laws on the books about minimum age requirements for passengers of ATVs and off-highway vehicles? All that most states are willing to say is that passengers have to wear helmets and that they need a foot peg or rest to rest their feet on. Legally speaking, a five-year-old who is legally required to sit in a booster seat in Mom’s minivan is totally fine clinging to the back of an off-road motor vehicle with nothing more than a footrest and a helmet for safety. Guess how well that plays out in practice?

A five-year-old in Macomb Township, Michigan sustained several injuries after being thrown from a mini dirt bike driven by his father, who is clearly a paragon of good decision making. The 27-year-old dad was apparently jumping hills on the side of Garfield Road between the street itself and the sidewalk, when the child came off the bike. Not only did the child go flying, but his or her helmet came off on impact. (If you’re going off-roading with your kid, actually fastening the helmet seems like the bare minimum safety precaution you need to take.) And just in case all this wasn’t bad enough, witnesses thought the child might also have been struck by the bike after hitting the ground. Fortunately, someone else who’d been on the road was able to flag down a passing sheriff’s patrol car immediately after the accident to get the poor child some help.

As with most states, Michigan doesn’t have a minimum passenger age, only a rule about the footrest being available. There’s no word yet on whether this mini dirt bike was equipped with any footpegs (or if it was, whether the child could reach then), so it’s unclear whether or not the father was breaking the law just by having the child on his bike. But there is another pretty important law in Michigan that requires passengers to be wearing helmets. And here’s the funny thing about helmets: they stop working once they come off your kid’s head.

This dad will most likely be facing charges of child endangerment, but wouldn’t it have been better to have a rule on the books in the first place that kids this small shouldn’t be put into a dangerous situation? I can’t guarantee that a law banning kids under the age of 8 or so from riding passenger on a dirt bike would have kept this child out of danger, but having it out there would hopefully make parents more likely to think twice about trying something like this.

We all like to think that accidents will never happen to us, but statistically speaking, they are going to happen to someone, and there is no reason not to do your best to make sure that what happens to you is an “accident” and not a “tragedy”. Riding ATVs and OHVs are big hobbies in a lot of places, and if you’re going to do so with your children, they can’t wear just any old cast-off helmet of yours, and they can’t wear it loose or unbuckled. Even if you don’t feel like using your brain, please do your best to ensure that your kids will continue to have the option to use theirs in the future.

(Image: Warren Goldswain/Shutterstock)