Maker of ATV Jamie Lynn Spears' Daughter, 8, Was Riding Recommends No Drivers Under Age 10: ‘Safety Is Our Top Priority’
"The safety of our riders is our absolute top priority," a representative for Polaris told PEOPLE in a statement
Maddie Aldridge was behind the wheel of a Polaris all-terrain vehicle when the incident occurred, per the police report. Though it’s unclear which particular model Maddie was driving at the time of the accident, the family owns a 2015 Polaris RZR 170 in red, which Maddie had received for her 7th birthday in June of that year. Though a youth model ATV, with safety features including a parent-adjustable speed limiter, the driver’s manual states that children under the age of 10 should not operate or ride the vehicle. Even if they meet the age requirement, “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 manual read. The company also provides an instructional video for children to watch with their parents prior to riding.
“The safety of our riders is our absolute top priority,” a representative for Polaris told PEOPLE in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family.”
According to a statement by Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards and obtained by PEOPLE, the accident occurred shortly before 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Contrary to earlier reports, the crash did not take place during a hunting trip, but on the family property, in full view of the singer-songwriter and her husband, Maddie’s stepfather Jamie Watson.
The child was steering the Polaris ATV about 100 yards from her parents when she took a hard right to avoid running over a nearby drainage ditch. In doing so, she overcorrected causing the ATV to enter the pond,” the report reads. “The ATV and child were instantly submerged in the water right before their eyes.”
“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. 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.”
Maddie was airlifted to a nearby children’s hospital.
Polaris RZRs — but not the youth model — were recalled as recently as August due to fire hazards. According to CNN, the company received 19 reports of their 2016 Polaris RZR XP Turbo and RZR XP 4 Turbo vehicles catching fire, with six resulting in burn injuries. One incident, which occurred in Utah’s American Fork Canyon, destroyed 15 acres of forest land and severely burned a child.
The recall affected more than 13,000 vehicles.
ATV accidents similar to Maddie’s have become commonplace as many take to the popular vehicles. A near-fatal ATV accident left Ozzy Osbourne in a coma for more than a week in 2003, ABC News reported. In April, Real Housewives of Orange County starsVicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge were hospitalized after a four-wheeler accident in California.
Inez Tenebaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, called ATVs one of the “deadliest” products that the commission oversees.
“Every year 700 people die and 136,000 go to the emergency room because of ATV related injuries,” Tenenbaum told NBC.
However, experts say that ATVs pose an even higher threat to children. Roll-overs are an especially common form of injury for underage riders, as both operators and passengers.
“Children are not developmentally capable of operating these heavy, complex machines,” Sandra Hassink, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics warns all parents that no child under the age of 16 should drive or ride an ATV.”
- Reporting by SARAH MICHAUD