ATV company to pay nearly $1 million for reporting violations; ATV safety concerns persist

Thursday, January 13th 2005, 8:40 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Polaris Industries Inc. has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle allegations it belatedly reported defects and hazards on some of its all-terrain vehicles, the first such penalty involving ATVs, the government announced Thursday.

The defects were linked to dozens of accidents and at least 25 injuries from December 1998 to February 2001, including burns, torn muscles, scrapes and bruises, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

Two separate CPSC investigations found that Polaris, based in Medina, Minn., allegedly made engineering changes to certain ATV models after receiving injury and accident reports, but before informing the government of any problems, as federal law requires.

The CPSC said that while Polaris agreed to pay a $950,000 civil penalty, the company denied allegations it violated the law. Polaris spokeswoman Marlys Knutson said the company would comment Thursday.

In an interview, CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton said he hoped the penalty would serve as a deterrent to other companies seeking to avoid reporting substantial product hazards.

According to the commission, between December 1998 and May 2000, Polaris received 88 reports of throttles sticking in the controls of three of its ATV models _ the Scrambler, Sport and Xplorer 400 _ a defect that can prevent the machines from slowing or stopping.

Seven injuries were reported, including a dislocated hip and a broken shoulder. After three engineering changes, the company reported the problems in May 2000, prompting a recall that August, CPSC said.

The second case involved Xpedition, Trail Boss and Magnum 325 models, which had oil lines that blew off, disconnected or loosened, resulting in spraying of hot, pressurized oil, CPSC said. Between March 1999 and February 2001, the company received nearly 1,450 reports of such accidents, including 42 fires and 18 injuries. As before, Polaris allegedly made engineering changes before reporting problems to the CPSC, and eventually announced a recall.

The CPSC has been criticized for dragging its feet on monitoring the ATV industry. While sales of the vehicles _ designed to travel over dirt, rocks and trails _ are in the hundreds of thousands and increasing annually, consumer and health advocates doubt their safety for children under 16 and have urged the government to regulate sales to younger riders.

The commission has reported more than 5,000 ATV-related deaths since 1982, with children under 16 accounting for about a third. Stratton said new 2003 data would be released this month.

``We are facing an epidemic in the country and we need the CPSC to show strong and effective leadership, and that has not happened yet,'' said Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel for Consumer Federation of America.

The federation and several other consumer and physician groups filed a petition in 2002 asking the CPSC to make it illegal to sell adult-sized ATVs intended for children. Stratton said he hopes to respond to the petition soon, but could not give a timeframe.

Without revealing how the commission might rule, Stratton said: ``We can pass a regulation that said that. Now, whether we can enforce a regulation like that is a whole different kettle of fish.''

In the interview Wednesday, he addressed the broader issue of safety measures riders can take to avoid accidents, including wearing a helmet, riding solo on one-seater vehicles and staying off pavement.

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