ATV’s, Traumatic Injuries, and Corporate Responsibility

Here’s an item for the “I have more questions than answers” file:

ATV (all terrain vehicle) accidents account for a surprising number of deaths and injuries in Canada, and apparently the number is growing (despite the fact that sales are down). And a lot of the victims are children and teenagers.

Here’s the story, from CTV News: ATV hospitalizations…

Hospitalizations related to all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents have increased by 25 per cent over the last decade in Canada, a new report finds.

There were 4,104 hospitalizations due to these accidents in 2004-2005, compared to 3,296 in 1996-97, says a report released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Interestingly, the story doesn’t include any comment from the makers of ATV’s. I’m sure their line has to be something along the lines of most people enjoy our product responsibly…little danger when used appropriately…read the user’s manual…etc. And all of that is fair enough. I don’t know what, if anything, makers of ATV’s can do either to make their products safer or to encourage safer use. But do they have a responsiblity to try?

As usual, the easy-ish case is the kids. Adults are pretty much free to be as dumb as they want. But we all have special responsibilities to safeguard children. For kids, of course, there’s always the question of parental supervision and guidance. But the evidence seems to be that that’s lacking. So there’s the dilemma faced by the makers of ATV’s: despite your warnings and disclaimers, kids are getting mangled in recreational use of your product.

This is one of those issues where the too-often-asked question, “Is it ethical?” is the wrong starting point. Better would be to start with “How ethical is it?” or “What can and should be done to improve things?” Now there is a good argument, of course, that there’s a limit to how much safety we can and should want. Life is to be lived, and you can’t reduce its risk to zero. But when kids are being put into trauma units by an activity to which there are lots of equally-fun alternatives, it seems reasonable to ask some hard questions.

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