Published 5/1/2007
Peter Pollack

Public service messages work—even at statehouse

PSA postcard on ATV safety plays role in stopping legislation

A small postcard depicting three surgeons, a battered all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and a trauma center had a big impact in North Dakota, where legislators were considering a proposal to lower the legal driving age for children operating ATVs and motocross motorcycles on public land. The postcard was produced by the AAOS and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) as part of the 2007 public service campaign.

Under current North Dakota law, children must be 12 years of age or older, wear a helmet, and possess an off-highway vehicle safety certificate before they can pilot an ATV or motocross motorcycle on anything other than private property. A proposal introduced in January would have reduced the minimum age to 10 years, as long as the child was also under adult supervision.

According to the Bismark Tribune, Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, who introduced the legislation, said her bill was inspired by the age limit recommendations suggested by manufacturers and had the goal of increasing safety by giving children the opportunity to become better drivers at an earlier age. Because ATVs are relatively common on farms in North Dakota, many young children are already legally driving them on private property.

A number of organizations, including a pediatrician’s group and the North Dakota Safety Council, opposed the bill, citing concerns about the ability of such young children to properly control vehicles that may weigh 600 pounds and reach speeds of 60 miles per hour. But the bill was accepted by committee and passed by the House, then sent to the Senate.

Opposition groups were granted several weeks of reprieve before the Senate Transportation Committee would review the proposal and send it to the floor with a recommendation of either “Do pass” or “Do not pass.” During that period, one of the witnesses scheduled to testify received a packet of public relations material in the mail. Among the items in the packet was the postcard, with its tag line, “Over the river and through the woods to the trauma center we go.” The copy noted that “136,000 ATV-related injuries were treated in hospitals and doctor’s offices in 2004,” and “Accidents happen when ATVs are operated in the wrong place, under the wrong conditions, by people too young or too inexperienced in ATV safety measures.”

Before giving his testimony, the witness passed out the postcard to the committee members. Although the reaction of the Senators was “expectedly stoical,” according to the witness, the committee later gave the bill a recommendation of “Do not pass.” That decision may have saved lives and prevented injuries.

Although physicians and other healthcare experts also gave impassioned testimony, the story illustrates how simple materials can be used to make powerful statements. The AAOS/OTA postcard may not have been the deciding factor in the committee’s vote, but its powerful message surely made a contribution.

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