Summer high season for cycling, riding ATVs – and related injuries: report

TORONTO – Summer for Canadians means a chance to get outside and enjoy the warm weather, but not surprisingly it’s also the peak season for recreational injuries.

Each day in summer, 45 Canadians on average are admitted to hospital for injuries related to wheel- and water-based activities such as cycling, skateboarding, swimming and boating, says a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

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The report, released Thursday, shows that cycling injuries are the most common, accounting for half of all hospital admissions resulting from summer sports and recreational activities. In 2009–2010, 4,324 Canadians ended up in hospital due to a cycling injury, with almost half of them occurring in June, July and August.

Among provinces, British Columbia and Alberta had the highest population-based rate of serious harm related to bike-riding, while Ontario and Nova Scotia had the lowest.

While the number of acute cycling injuries per year has remained relatively stable since 2001-2002, CIHI data revealed one bright spot – cycling-related head traumas fell significantly over that period, to 665 from 907.

Claire Marie Fortin, manager of clinical registries at CIHI, said she can only speculate about the reason for the drop.

“The only thing we really know is that in 80 per cent of the head injuries, the patients reported not wearing helmets,” she said. “That suggests that helmets protect against head injuries.”

The report shows that over the eight-year period, children and youth under 20 made up the largest group put in hospital by a cycling accident (42 per cent), with boys aged 10 to 14 admitted most often.

Pamela Fuselli, executive director of Safe Kids Canada in Toronto, said the report shows more needs to be done to prevent the kinds of injuries that are putting youngsters in hospital beds – or worse.

“We’re still seeing people in emergency rooms, and from our perspective of course, children and youth with serious head injuries from cycling when they weren’t wearing a helmet,” she said Thursday. “So we need to really be strong in our messaging and enforcement of making kids wear helmets when they’re on their bikes.”

Unfortunately, helmet use is not mandatory in all provinces and territories or for all age groups, noted Fuselli. “We would like for it to be harmonized across the country because we know that wearing a helmet is the safest thing to do.

“We also know from research that role models are important for kids. So when they see their parents not wearing helmets because it’s not ‘the law’ necessarily, then it sends a mixed message when there isn’t any physical reason why an adult skull is able to sustain a head injury off a bike any more than a child is.”

While cycling injuries took top spot number-wise, the CIHI report shows all-terrain vehicle mishaps are the fastest-growing reason for hospitalization related to summer recreational activities. In 2009–2010, 3,386 Canadians were sent to hospital for ATV injuries – a 31 per cent increase from 2001–2002.

Those at highest risk of being badly hurt were males aged 15 to 24, and other research suggests alcohol is often a factor.

ATVs were originally introduced as a work vehicle for farms, the oil patch and other large or rough-terrain sites, but are increasingly being ridden as recreational vehicles, especially off-road, said Kathy Belton, associate director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.

“They’re being used by inappropriate age groups,” Belton said from Edmonton. “Parents most often don’t really realize the dangers that they’re putting their kids in by putting them on these machines.”

Both the ACICR and Safe Kids Canada subscribe to the Canadian Paediatric Society recommendation that children under 16 should not ride an ATV.

“Even on flat surfaces, these machines can tip. But the danger is most often the roll-over capacity, said Belton. “Young children get on these machines and they don’t have the ability to judge the risk, so therefore they take unnecessary risks and go up hills that are way too steep and they turn too fast for the machine to handle and they don’t have enough physical weight to hold the machine down on the ground.”

In Alberta, which leads the country in ATV sales based on population, there is no law requiring helmet use while roaring around on the low-stance, four-wheel vehicles and no minimum driver age, although those under 14 face some restrictions on public property, she said.

“But that’s only on public land. On private property, you can do anything.”

The four Atlantic provinces have legislation covering ATVs, but Safe Kids Canada would like to see every province and territory enact laws that would standardize age limits for riding vehicles across the country.

“They are very powerful and they do cause serious injuries, especially for children on them,” said Fuselli.

Belton said the ACICR discourages parents from letting kids under 16 ride ATVs, but “if you really want to put your child on a machine … please make it a youth-sized machine,” with the child supervised and wearing safety gear, including a helmet, face and eye protection, gloves, a coat and leather pants.

“In terms of ATVs, I think we have a lot more education to do to make parents aware of the dangers,” she said. “Nobody says, you know, ‘Go out and ride your bike or be on an ATV or Rollerblades or whatever and I hope you get injured.’ No parent willingly puts their child in harm’s way.

“So I think we just need to make them more aware of the risks that they are taking and to prevent some of these things from happening.”

Other highlights from the CIHI report:

– During June, July and August, an average of 194 deaths occurred every year in Canada from all motor vehicle collisions, ATV accidents, and summer sports and recreational activities.

– Motor vehicle collisions still represent the No. 2 cause of injury in Canada, second only to falls, with 18,964 hospitalizations in 2009–2010, down 21 per cent from 2001–2002.

– The number of water-related injuries has remained relatively stable since 2001–2002, with 331 injuries occurring in 2009–2010. The data do not include drownings.

CIHI looked only at injuries severe enough that they required hospital care. But for every one of those, there will be many more that go unreported or are treated in emergency departments, doctors’ offices or walk-in clinics, Fortin pointed out.

“All injuries are preventable – there isn’t an injury that can’t be prevented or minimized or reduced, so any injury is unnecessary,” she said. “So what can we do better around these activities to make them safer?”