Consumer, children's advocate groups press for national ATV safety standards

Tuesday, August 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Advocacy groups called Tuesday for a ban on young children riding all-terrain vehicles, saying a surge in deaths and injuries show the industry's efforts to enforce safety rules have failed.

Representatives from consumer, children's and environmental groups cited statistics showing injuries to ATV riders under 16 have nearly doubled in the last eight years.

``Self-regulation by the ATV industry has led to larger and faster ATVs and more children being killed and injured,'' said Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel to the Consumer Federation of America.

ATVs are motorized machines that can traverse off-road terrain. While popular for recreation, they also are used extensively by farmers and other workers whose jobs require travel over rough ground.

Rules for operating the vehicles vary widely by state. Some have no restrictions, while others require licenses for owners and operators and bar children under 16 from riding them.

The ATV industry has opposed some efforts to restrict use, saying it will hurt those who depend on ATVs for their livelihood and unfairly penalize safe operators.

A representative of the ATV industry did not immediately return a call for comment on the advocacy groups' call for a ban.

The debate over ATV safety revives a fight that spanned two decades. In response to a rising fatality rate, particularly among children, the government and the industry entered a court-approved consent decree in 1988 banning the manufacture of three-wheel ATVs. It also ordered ATV distributors to use their ``best efforts'' to assure that dealers do not sell adult-size ATVs to children under 16.

The advocacy groups said rising death and injury rates indicate the voluntary guidelines are not working.

Annual injuries for four-wheel ATVs have increased nearly 400 percent _ from about 26,000 in 1993 to about 100,000 in 2001, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Annual injuries from all ATVs _ some three-wheel vehicles made before the ban took effect still are in use _ more than doubled during that period, from about 50,000 to about 111,700, the commission said.

And ATV injuries to children under 16 increased from about 17,000 in 1993 to about 34,800 in 2001.

Weintraub noted children under 16 represent about 14 percent of ATV riders but suffer 37 percent of ATV-related injuries and 38 percent of ATV-related deaths.

The Consumer Federation of America, the Bluewater Network, the National Trails and Waters Coalition and various emergency medical professionals say they want Congress and federal agencies to bar children under 16 from riding ATVs. The coalition also wants every state to adopt legislation to license, train and require safety rules for ATV owners and operators.

Separately Tuesday, Arctic Cat Inc. of Thief River Falls, Minn., recalled about 45,000 all-terrain vehicles because a mechanical problem can cause them to overturn, resulting in injuries.