An off-road vehicle accident involving Britney Spears’ niece, Maddie Aldridge, 8, on Feb. 5 has heightened safety concerns over the age children can safely operate the vehicles, which are often used recreationally.
Maddie was riding in a Polaris off-road vehicle at her home in Kentwood, Louisiana, when the vehicle flipped into a pond. Initial reports say Jamie Lynn Spears, stepfather Jamie Watson and other family couldn’t free her from the seat-belt and safety netting, leaving her submerged for several minutes. Emergency services eventually were able to free her and pull her out, according to USA Today.
“Within seconds the child’s mother, stepfather and other family members reached the pond, dove in and attempted to rescue the child to no avail,” a report from the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Department said, according to USA Today. “The child was trapped and secured by the seatbelt and the ATV’s safety netting. Within two minutes, Acadian Ambulance Services arrived and assisted in freeing the child from the cold waters.”
Aldridge was released from the hospital Saturday, Feb. 11, after regaining consciousness the Tuesday prior, and in a statement to People a family representative said that no “neurological consequences” have been found.
The incident sheds light on the risks involved with children operating all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Of the 14,129 ATV-related fatalities reported to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) between 1982 and 2015, 3,163 were younger than age 16. Almost 100,000 injuries from ATVs occurred in 2015, and nearly a quarter involved children younger than 16.
Those numbers only include certain types of ATVs, including “motorized vehicle having three or four low-pressure tires, a straddle seat for the operator, and handlebars for steering control,” so the number of accidents is likely higher when other kinds are considered.
Though the specific model of Polaris that Aldridge was driving remains unknown, she received a 2015 Polaris RZR 170, a youth model ATV, for her last birthday, according to People. The driver’s manual for that specific model says children younger than 10 should not operate or ride the vehicle and even older children “differ in skills, physical abilities and judgement … Permit continued use only if you determine that your child has the ability and maturity to operate safely.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no one younger than age 16 operate ATVs. “Every child needs a safe environment, and it is clear from these most recent data that ATVs are not safe for children,” Sandra G. Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated in a previous release on ATV death and injury data. “Children are not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating Aldridge’s case.