Aims Across historical periods and societies, capacity attributed to children varies. A case in point is changing views on the appropriate age of children driving tractors off-roads in Iceland where their use exploded after the World War II. Farmers had little experience in driving vehicles, and children were trusted with the task. Here we describe and analyse tractor driving of urban children who stayed on farms in Iceland during the summer, and evaluate the extent of fatal tractor accidents by age and gender.
Method Qualitative study that uses secondary data, including reports from the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health and news reports of fatal tractor accidents, and stories of individuals who were sent to stay at farms during the summer as children from the period 1950 to 2018. This is complemented with quantitative data from a representative survey data on adults who stayed on farms in childhood.
Results Stories expose adolescents´ fascination with the adventurous experience of driving tractors, and about half of children who had stayed on farms in childhood had driven tractors; for boys the mean age for first driving was 11.0 years compared to 12.6 years for girls. In total 46 children (85% boys) died in a tractor accident in the period at the mean age of 10.5 years (median 11.5, range 1-17); 23 (50%) were 12-17 years of age while driving the tractor. In the period 1959-1987, when there was no age-limit for driving tractor, 1.6 out 100,000 children died in a tractor accidents compared to 0.3 in earlier and later periods.
Conclusions Driving tractors during stays on farms caused many fatalities, in particular among adolescents driving tractors. The experience of children driving tractors in Iceland exposes the diverse views on children´s capacity. Preventive actions, for example through legislation and security measures, have contributed to a sharp decline in child deaths in tractor accidents.
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