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Honda ATV Back SEAT

Honda / November 26, 2018

Photo by BRUCE ELY/The OregonianDeadly thrills: An all-terrain vehicle rider heads up a hill at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area near the spot where Justin Miller, a 23-year-old from Yelm, Wash., died last July when he crashed his ATV. Though an experienced rider, Miller ended up beneath the machine and suffocated.

The final weekend in March dawned gray and damp across much of the country - but eager riders pulled out their all-terrain vehicles anyway and hit the springtime trails.

Soon the ambulances rolled, too.

In North Carolina, an ATV overturned and crushed an 18-year-old woman to death. A collision with a truck killed two ATV riders in Centertown, Ky. Two girls, ages 4 and 7, died in separate ATV wrecks in eastern Texas. And two infants - a 14-month-old in South Carolina and an 8-month-old in Perris, Calif. - died in two more ATV crashes.

In Oregon that weekend, Debby Schubert, 45, and Donnie Moody, 31, became the state's first ATV fatalities this year when their machine tumbled into a dry canal east of Redmond.

Nine dead, including four children. Another bloody weekend in ATV country, where the quest for thrills and family fun can turn to grief in one terrifying moment.

Nearly 20 years ago, the federal government declared ATVs an "imminent hazard" and forced manufacturers to drop unstable three-wheel models in favor of the four-wheelers sold today. Regulators also compelled the ATV industry to adopt safety warnings and offer rider training to stem the accidents.

Since then, federal officials have done little more than tally the dead, and the failure of their approach can be seen in the grim body counts from Oregon to West Virginia.

The rate of injuries per ATV has barely budged from where it stood in the years after the government acted in 1988. Though death rates initially plummeted as three-wheelers disappeared, there's been scant improvement since.

Over the past decade, the machines have soared in popularity, with 7.6 million in use. The result: Record numbers of riders end up in emergency rooms and morgues as accidents kill about 800 people a year and injure an estimated 136, 700.

"This is one of the worst examples ever of a government agency failing in its fundamental mission to protect the American public, " Stuart M. Statler, a former U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission member, said of the agency's inability to significantly reduce ATV deaths and injuries during the past two decades.