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State leads nation in ATV deaths

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By Larry Rowell

Kentucky may be known for horses, bluegrass and bourbon, but in reality it's becoming known for something much deadlier - leading the nation in all-terrain vehicle deaths, according to Dale Dobson, safety administrator with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Twenty-nine people died in Kentucky on ATVs in 2007, Dobson said, and his passion and goal is to reduce that number to zero by teaching people how to safely operate ATVs.

This past Memorial Day weekend in Kentucky, Dobson said, four people, three of whom were under the age of 16, were killed in ATV accidents.

"One 18-year-old man received an ATV from his parents as a high school graduation present. He took it out running 80 miles an hour, had an accident and is now completely paralyzed for the rest of his life," Dobson said.

Dobson, in partnership with Charles Shaw of Campbellsville, coordinator for Region 14 State Fire Rescue Training, spoke to about 100 farmers, civic leaders and other residents at a program about farm safety Tuesday at the Taylor County Extension Agency.

Dobson was invited by the Taylor County Agriculture Council as part of an emphasis of June as Dairy Month, according to Pat Hardesty, County Extension Agent.

"We invited dairy farm families to this program because we wanted to do something for farm safety," Hardesty said.

Dobson, raised on a farm near Hodgenville, knows first hand how quickly accidents can occur on the farm.

In November 1994, Dobson's father Wayne got his arms wrapped up in a PTO shaft on a tractor. Both arms were broken, he spent seven weeks in the hospital and underwent 13 surgeries. That has helped to motivate Dobson in preaching the message of farm safety far and wide across the state.

Dobson first met with Shaw and several others at his farm in 1994 and began to outline a vision for a comprehensive safety program aimed at preventing accidents to Kentucky's farm families.

Shaw had already developed a farm safety program with UK professor Larry Pearcy 20 years earlier with a focus on "how to get somebody out of something," Shaw said. It was more rescue than prevention.

Dobson said he began traveling as safety administrator in 1998 and, for the next two years, he and the state fire and rescue agency would cover all of Kentucky's 120 counties.

There were 50 agricultural related fatalities in Kentucky in 1995. That number was reduced to 23 in 2004.

As part of Dobson's demonstration, a tractor with a mannequin driver was mounted on a flatbed trailer. The tractor didn't have a roll bar mounted behind the driver.

Dobson flipped a switch and the tractor began to turn completely over, crushing the driver's head. Dobson then mounted a roll bar behind the driver and repeated the demonstration but this time, the driver's head didn't touch the ground because of the roll bar.

On another trailer, Jimmy Van Cleve, a coordinator with state fire and rescue, demonstrated the deadly consequences of falling into a grain bin. An infant mannequin fell into a grain trailer that was being emptied by a vertical auger that sends the grain down to the elevator where it's augured up to a grain bin.

Almost immediately, the infant was pulled below the surface of the corn toward the spinning auger.

Dobson said as far as he knows, no other state has a traveling safety show like Kentucky's. He has worked with agricultural departments in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma to develop their programs using his research and demonstrations.

Though the traveling safety show still focuses on tractor and grain bin safety, Shaw said the two agencies are now also focusing on ATV safety.

ATVs are not only popular on the farm, Shaw said, but local, state and government agencies are using the vehicles more frequently in rescue operations.

"The rescue personnel need to be trained how to properly and safely operate these things," Shaw said.

Another program Dobson is working on is teaching young people about ATV safety. Recently, he spent five days with a group of teens in Adair County. The group first viewed what Dobson called a "blood and guts" video about ATV wrecks.

He then took the young people to a road course where they learned to navigate an ATV safely. He has also developed a curriculum to use in the classroom.

Dobson said he can only accept 20 percent of the hundreds of requests he receives each year. He's now taking reservations for 2010.

- Larry Rowell is a Kentucky Press Association summer intern. Contact him at lrowell@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.