The Consumer Product Safety Commission will review existing safety standards for all-terrain vehicles to see if they adequately prevent injuries and deaths, especially among young riders.
Commission Chairman Hal Stratton announced the review yesterday weeks ahead of the agency's vote on a 2002 petition from a coalition of medical, consumer and environmental groups to ban sales of new, adult-sized ATVs for use by children under 16.
Earlier this year, the commission staff recommended against a ban, concluding that a ban on sales would not stop adults from allowing children to ride.
ATVs have been linked to nearly 5,800 deaths since 1982; in the past four years for which figures are available, deaths have risen above 400 each year, with 407 fatalities in 2003. Of those, 111, or more than 27 percent, were children under 16.
"This is a top-to-bottom review of all existing safety standards" to see if new rules are needed to reduce ATV-related injuries, said CPSC spokesman Leonardo Alcivar. The review will be more comprehensive than a "narrow and largely unenforceable" sales ban, he said.
Consumer groups called Stratton's directive a delaying tactic to divert attention from the agency's expected vote against a sales ban. "Studies have been done, yet the chairman calls for another study while children continue to be killed and seriously injured by large ATVs," said Carolyn Anderson, president of Concerned Families for ATV Safety, a support organization for families whose children have been killed and injured on ATVs. Anderson's 14-year-old son died in August 2004 when the ATV he was driving crashed into a tree.
The Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, which represents major ATV manufacturers, said it remained "committed to the safety of its customers and will continue to promote and enhance" its safety efforts, including its campaign for state legislation that restricts the operation of adult-size ATVs to people 16 and older.
The CPSC sued ATV manufacturers in 1987, calling ATVs an imminently hazardous consumer product. In 1988, the companies agreed to stop selling three-wheel ATVs.
Four-wheel ATV sales have grown, with 899,000 units sold last year, up from 597,000 in 1999. In 2003, there were 125,500 injuries, up from 67,800 in 1998; about 31 percent of those injured in 2003 were younger than 16, compared with 37 percent in 1998.
Stratton's memo comes less than a month after he met with several mothers whose children died in ATV accidents. He expressed reluctance to impose a sales ban and asked whether he should also ban bicycles because they cause injuries to children, according to Anderson and three other mothers who attended the meeting. CPSC declined to comment on Stratton's remarks.
Stratton has asked his staff to look at pre-sale training and certification requirements, enhanced warning labels and providing parents with written notification of child-injury data at the time of sale.