I. Hate. ATVs.

The modern world is full of potentially dangerous things that we regulate – sometimes by the knowledge of the person giving it (medication) or by age (tobacco, alcohol, cars). Or sometimes we simply ban something altogether (illicit drugs).

After years of neurology practice, I’ve learned to hate ATVs. Outside of firearms, I don’t think I’ve seen any gadget that has such a devastating effect on young lives.

My first medical encounter with one was 20-some years ago during my neurosurgery rotation. It was a man in his mid-20s. He was young, muscular, and clearly in excellent condition. And here he was, flaccid below the neck, and permanently on a ventilator.

I sat at the nurses station for a long time, looking at him and thinking about how a young life can go so horribly wrong so quickly. He hadn’t been drunk at the time. He’d simply had a wreck, the cause of which I never found out. After a few days, he was shipped off to a long-term ventilator facility, and I never saw him again.

Cars are dangerous, too, but are bigger and have gadgets to try to improve safety. ATVs are exposed, with only minimal, if any, protection for their riders. Their use is most typically by the young, meaning a disproportionate number of serious injuries will affect those at the beginning of adulthood.

Sadly, banning ATVs won’t stop injuries. There will always be people who do risky things in the name of being daring and having fun.

What’s changed is that 100 years ago they’d likely have died of their injuries soon afterward. Today they’ll probably survive, debilitated long term because of medical advancements.

These are the situations where I feel helpless. There are all kinds of horrible diseases we handle that have no known cause or cure. That’s one kind of helpless. But the ones with easily avoidable risk factors (ATVs, illegal drugs, tobacco) that occur are just plain frustrating for us and tragic for the patients and families.

In the land of the free, freedom to endanger your own life and health are pretty deeply entrenched. The best we can do is present people with the facts and let them make informed decisions about risky behaviors (sadly, the young often believe they’re immortal). If we ban ATVs, we still won’t stop people from making bad decisions on motorcycles or in cars, or with firearms or illegal drugs.

Like so much in medicine, there are no easy answers, and there likely never will be.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.