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Dune smart: Wear your gear
While an ATV is well equipped to handle the rigors of the great outdoors, duners must gear up to absorb the shocks that otherwise may put the brakes on their passion for motor sports. Sand dunes can be hard and they change from week to week because of blowing winds, so the best advice for duners is to cover their head and limbs with protective gear, said Lori Vandersloot, director of emergency services at Yuma Regional Medical Center. She cautioned that variable weather conditions can turn what was once a sand dune into a pit.
"We've had people say, 'I just went over a hill and there was nothing there,'" Vandersloot said. "We've actually had several deaths in the sand dunes. The last was in the spring — but we're not seeing a lot of fatalities."
The weekend of Oct. 26 to 28 saw cooler temperatures in Yuma along with increased off-highway vehicle activity in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, Vandersloot noted.
During that weekend YRMC treated 27 people for ATV injuries. Most were minor, such as fractured wrists, clavicles, or shoulder separations. But major injuries including fractured femurs, spinal cord and abdominal injuries and head traumas are not uncommon, Vandersloot said.
"Minor injuries are treated and released," she said. "If it's a fractured extremity, lacerated spleen or liver, it usually stays in Yuma. But we have no neurosurgeon here; that's why they (head injuries) have to be transferred out (Phoenix)."
Many injuries to children could be avoided if they were not allowed to drive ATVs by themselves, Vandersloot said. Some of the ATVs are just too big for youngsters to adequately control, she noted.
But typically, most accidents occur in the foothills and county road areas of Yuma. It is there that riders often neglect to wear safety gear because law enforcement is not out there "keeping an eye on things," she said.
Duners should always be accompanied by someone else in case of an accident because ambulances cannot always reach remote areas and the Marine Corps search and rescue helicopters must be called in, she said.
If stranded before help arrives, duners may want to administer first aid for minor injuries. It is best that anyone with a head or neck injury, or who is unconscious, not moved because that may only worsen the injury, cautioned Vandersloot.
If an accident victim is bleeding, a T-shirt or towel should be placed over the wound and hand pressure applied to staunch the bleeding, she advised. For broken extremities, pieces of cardboard boxes, belts, or even duct tape may serve as a splint she said.
Vandersloot recommends that anyone under 16 who goes duning have adult supervision. A lot of children may not have the skills or judgement to ride ATVs, especially for the first
Whether a duner is a beginner or a seasoned pro, the first and foremost precaution ought to be a full face helmet - one that covers the jaw - said Andy Torgerson, service manager for Performance Motor Sports in Yuma. But for safety gear to perform as intended, a proper fit is essential.
Other important gear for duners includes: off-road boots to protect ankles and shins, long sleeves and trousers, and goggles to protect against sand. Just a couple of grains of sand can cause irritation and seriously diminish the view. Being aware of one's surroundings is crucial, even for experienced riders, he said.
"You never know when someone is going to come out of nowhere, change directions, or cut into your path," Torgerson said.
Along with protective wear, he also recommended taking plenty of water in a container that can be strapped to the back, and a communication device, such as a shortwave radio, because cell phones may not always work in remote areas.
Torgerson cautions to avoid high windy days because ATV riders will not be able to see elevation changes and riders never know where high or low points can catch a vehicle by surprise. But more than anything, if a person is going to drink alcohol, they should not get back on an ATV, he cautioned. Complete Bureau of Land Management regulations for ATVs are online at www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/elcentro/recreation/ohvs/isdra.html.
ATVs are increasing in popularity and the more people there are in the sand dunes the more probability of injury there is, Vandersloot said. In 2006 there were 344 injuries, up from 199 the year before.
"Our busiest weekend is Thanksgiving weekend," Vandersloot said. "They (Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area) report as many as 130,000 people. You may be a safe driver but someone else may not be."
William Roller can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858.