To reduce the increasing number of children and adolescents having motorcycle accidents in Victoria, legislation needs to be changed and more education strategies need to be put in place, according to a research paper published in the latest issue of Medical Journal of Australia.
Paediatric Emergency Physician, Dr Catherine Bevan, and her co-authors wanted to quantify an anecdotal increase in motorcycle-related injuries in children and adolescents across Victoria.
"Riding motorcycles ... is a popular sport among children and adolescents in Australia. Unfortunately, more and more young patients are presenting after motorcycle crashes and children as young as five years old are being injured while riding these vehicles," Dr Bevan said.
Between July 2000 and June 2004, 3,163 patients under the age of 16 years presented to a Victorian emergency department with injuries from motorcycle accidents. The number of accidents has been increasing at a rate of almost 10 per cent per year. In the same four-year period, there were 167 motorcycle-related admissions to the Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) in Melbourne. These injuries can be serious or fatal.
Only about half of the RCH patients' notes stated whether the patient had been wearing a helmet - of these, 28 per cent were not wearing one.
Dr Bevan said about a quarter of these motorbike accidents occurred in children under 10 years old and most occurred off-road.
"In Australia, it is not legal for children to ride motorcycles on public roads other than as pillion passengers. However, there is currently no legislation [to cover] private property or off-road. ... Injury prevention efforts are limited." In Victoria, no legislation exists ... on the wearing of helmets or protective clothing for off-road riding."
In this retrospective study, Dr Bevan and her co-authors found that 70 per cent of the young patients admitted to the RCH were in single-vehicle accidents. More than half of the patients had fallen off their bike, 23 per cent had hit a stationary object and only 13 per cent had collided with another vehicle.
"It is very doubtful if children under 10 years, and certainly those under 6 years, have the developmental and cognitive ability to control the power and torque of motorcycles, nor the required capacity for hazard perception."
Dr Bevan said the aim of this research was to increase public awareness about the dangers of youngsters riding motorbikes, to inform injury prevention programs and get the government to take some action.
"We believe there is an urgent need for coordinated legislative changes and education efforts to decrease motorcycle injuries in young Victorians," Dr Bevan said.
The Medical Journal of Australia
is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.