Since police announced a crackdown on the use of all-terrain vehicles on Philadelphia streets in April, some Germantown residents say they have noticed fewer riding along Philadelphia streets as they have in years past.
However, with summer underway, that could soon change, which is of concern to medical and civic officials.
With 15 ATV-related deaths in Philadelphia between 1999-2010 — among nearly 11,000 annually — Dr. Robert McNamara, M.D., Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Temple University Hospital, noted the public-safety ramifications of illegal riding, particularly with young-male drivers.
He recalled an instance from few years ago when a man in his twenties was brought in with “devastating injuries” after a high-speed collision.
“There was nothing we could do,” he said. “Young guy, taken out needlessly.”
The victim still had the ATV-purchase receipt in his pocket. He’d bought the vehicle just hours earlier.
“At that age, a lot of people feel they’re invulnerable and, unfortunately, here in the trauma bays, we see that they’re not,” he said. “What we see is the nasty end of the fun.
“It’s tough to tell the young that they could get hurt, but if a parent has an influence, I would say that they need to have a serious sitdown. There are potential major consequences for buying an ATV and they really just shouldn’t be used on the streets in Philly, it doesn’t make any sense.”
While he’s noticed fewer fatalities in recent years, McNamara said staff still advise patients that “these are inherently dangerous things,” with major fractures and spinal injuries resulting. For riders who “don’t want to wear a helmet,” brain injuries can result.
In 2004, Germantown resident Dorethea King lost her 25-year-old son Terrence Huff when he was struck by a car while riding his new motorcycle. Huff wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time his head hit the sidewalk.
King, who runs a free lunch-and-snack program at Fernhill Park, said that area is known as a regular meeting-up site for ATV and motorcycle riders. She shared her story as two young children sat and listened while they ate.
For her, rider education is an integral part of the story.
“He had just got the motorcycle so he didn’t really know how to master it,” she said, “I believe in my heart if he would have had a helmet there wouldn’t have been that much damage to his head.”
After noting that tragedy could still result despite fewer ATV riders, she recounted her final conversation with her son.
“That morning, I had said to him, ‘Terrence, when I get home, you better have my money’ … and he said, ‘I’m not going to be here when you get home,'” King recounted. “Had I known I wasn’t going to see my child alive again I would’ve never left for work, I would’ve stayed home.”
Sarah E. Maceachern and Ryan A. Shellenberger are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.