Four-year-old Jayden Railey Bennett was driving his four-wheel ATV when he veered off of a dirt road and into the path of an oncoming semi. The truck driver, 43-year-old Lemoore resident Martin Garcia, was apparently driving under the speed limit and was not at fault. Jayden was wearing a helmet, but neither his safety equipment nor his little body could deflect the sheer force of a semi truck.
The question is how could this happen? And was Jayden too young to be driving an ATV? While state law does not set a minimum age to drive an ATV on private property, when operating an ATV on public land in California, state law currently requires that all ATV riders under 18 years of age must have an ASI ATV Safety Certificate, or be supervised by an adult who possesses the Certificate.
According to the Fresno Bee, Jayden was following a group of older children when he crossed onto the public road and his grandfather, who was supposed to be watching him, was nowhere in sight. Now Jayden’s grandfather, seventy-year-old William Bennett of Goshen, could be charged with child endangerment, said Scott Harris, a California Highway Patrol officer.
Dr. Larry Foreman has seen it more times than he would like to admit. Dr. Foreman, who is an emergency room physician at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, indicated that he has seen hundreds of children injured riding ATVs at the nearby Oceano State Vehicular Recreation Area, on California’s Central Coast. He has observed that younger children often try to ride an ATV that is too large and too powerful for them to control, leading to injuries. Dr. Foreman indicated that he did not believe that a four-year old child would have the maturity or the knowledge to safely drive an ATV. His concerns are echoed by the ATV Safety Institute who recommends that children be able to perceive danger in advance and that they have the mental, emotional and physical development to be able to drive an ATV safely before solo-piloting these vehicles.
Dr. Foreman said he has tried several times to get the Legislature to pass laws that would set age limits for ATV riders on public property, especially at places like Oceano Dunes. Dr. Foreman pointed to guidelines established by an ATV safety association created by some major ATV manufacturers and based on the child’s age and size of the ATV.
But Foreman said his efforts went nowhere, and he received ferocious criticism from off-road groups. Foreman said he will continue to push increased ATV regulation. Thank you Dr. Foreman. I wish you eventual success.
California Highway patrol officer Scott Harris said there is no California Vehicle Code section putting an age limit for children riding an ATV on private property. It is illegal to drive an ATV such as the one the boy was riding on public streets or highways, he said.
“When they are driving on private property, a lot of the vehicle code doesn’t apply,” Harris said.
Manufacturers generally recommend that riders be 16 years old and have completed an ATV safety course, but the decision to allow a younger child to ride one generally comes down to the parental judgment, said Blake Delima, a parts associate at Tulare Honda.
In 2003, California ranked number one nationwide in sales of new ATVs, and sales of new ATVs in California have more than quadrupled from 1998 to 2003, based on Motorcycle Industry Council estimates.
Sales of new ATVs have increased steadily since 1991 in the United States. Nationally, new unit ATV sales are up .5 percent through October 2004 compared to the same period in 2003, marking the 13th straight year of growth for these modern workhorses and popular recreational products. When estimated ATV unit sales to date for this decade (Jan. 2000 – Oct. 2004) are compared with the previous, we find that new unit sales of ATVs have already increased 34 percent over the entire 1990-1999 decade.
As of 2004, an estimated 16.3 million Americans ride ATVs in the United States.
State law currently requires that all ATV riders under 18 years of age must have an ASI ATV Safety Certificate, or be supervised by an adult who possesses the Certificate. Also according to California state law, all riders under the age of 14 must be supervised by an adult, however the ATV Safety Institute strongly recommends that parents always supervise children under 16. A Certificate is obtained by either completing the ASI ATV RiderCourse, or participating in the course as an “observer.”
It is my opinion that in this case, Jayden’s grandfather, William Bennett, should be charged criminally for Jayden’s death. If I was handling the civil case, I would certainly sue Mr. Bennett civilly and create as much press about it as possible. Why? So that the word gets out that adults can be held accountable for negligent supervision that leads to a death or serious injury of a child under their supervision. This applies to parents, grand-parents and anyone supervising or enabling a child. It would apply to anyone supplying an ATV to a child.
I know I will take a lot of flak for this position, but it will save lives, children’s lives, if adults know they can be held responsible.
People severely injured in accidents of all types and people who have lost a family member to an accident are free to call me, John Bisnar of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, for an immediate, no cost or obligation consultation. 1-800-259-6373.