New Report Challenges Industry’s Dangerous Response to ATV Safety Crisis

For immediate release
Rachel Weintraub, Consumer Federation of America, 202-387-6121
Scott Kovarovics, Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, 202-429-2696
Sean Smith, Bluewater Network, 415-544-0790 x. 19

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Consumer Groups, Conservation Advocates, and Doctors Call on CPSC to End Voluntary Approach to Safety

Washington, DC - A report issued today demonstrates that the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) industry is failing to reduce injuries or better protect children under 16 from dangerous adult-size ATVs. This report, All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Crisis: America's Children STILL at Risk, also directly challenges the industry's proposal to abolish minimum age limits and put some children on bigger, faster ATVs made specifically for adults. Consumer and conservation advocates and doctors join together once again to call on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to issue national safety standards to protect children.

"This report documents that industry's approach to safety has led to more injuries, more deaths and bigger and more powerful ATVs on the market," stated Rachel Weintraub, Assistant General Counsel for Consumer Federation of America and co-author of the report. "CPSC must act now by issuing a rule to protect all consumers, especially children, from what continues to be a hidden epidemic."

New Data on People Injured on ATVs

The ATV industry's voluntary approach to safety relies upon recommendations against the sale of adult-size ATVs (defined by industry and CPSC as ATVs with engines larger than 90 cc) for use by children under 16, warning labels and offers of training to purchasers of new ATVs. New analysis of data on ATV injuries collected by CPSC between 1997 and 2001 documents that this voluntary approach is failing in every major area:

  • Serious injuries requiring emergency room treatment more than doubled to nearly 112,000;
  • Injuries increased across every driver age group, up nearly 76 percent for children 12 to 15, 233 percent for children younger than 6, and more than 500 percent for drivers 65 and older;
  • In 2001, at least 97 percent of children under 16 were injured by ATVs larger than recommended for their age up from 95 percent in 1997;
  • Injuries caused by the biggest ATVs - those with engines larger than 400 cc - skyrocketed by 567 percent, from fewer than 4,000 to more than 24,000. The number of these ATVs in use during this period increased by less than half as much;
  • In 2001, approximately 42 percent of all injured drivers reported that their ATV did not have warning labels or they do not know if it did; and
  • CPSC found that only 7 percent of the 16 million ATV drivers received formal safety training at any point since they began riding.

(See full report for related graphs)

Industry Proposes Putting Children on Bigger, Faster ATVs

As the safety crisis continues, the ATV industry attempts to minimize the problem and shift responsibility to parents, victims and land managers. On the crucial issue of protecting children under 16 from the threats posed by adult-size ATVs, the industry proposes to abolish age limits and put some children on bigger, faster ATVs made specifically for adults. This was the message from dealers, state ATV associations and other industry representatives when CPSC convened a hearing on ATV safety in June. For example, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association said, "establishing machine size limits based upon a child's age is inadequate and misguided." He went on to explain how his organization is working to change the State's safety program to allow some children to operate adult-size ATVs.

At the same hearing, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), which represents every major ATV manufacturer, rejected intervention by CPSC. Instead, he touted the companies' model state legislation that would bar any child under 16 from riding an adult-size ATV on public land. Neither he nor any other representative of SVIA at the hearing challenged their colleagues' calls to end age recommendations.

"The ATV manufacturers can not have it both ways," said Scott Kovarovics, Director of the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition and co-author of the report. "They can't claim to continue to support age limits for children under 16 while their surrogates criticize and work to abolish them at the state level. Is this industry committed to the principles in its model bill or it is another device to deflect responsibility for this safety crisis?"

Doctors and surgeons who treat children injured by ATVs strongly challenge the industry's suggestion that age limits should be eliminated.

"Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has seen the number of kids injured in ATV accidents more than triple in the last five years," said Dr. Jeffrey Upperman, trauma surgeon at Children's. "The types of injuries we see from ATV accidents are so serious, including fractures, internal injuries and head trauma, because in many cases the machines are too big and too fast for small riders to control. We need to keep young children off these potentially dangerous vehicles in the first place."

"When compared to sport- and bicycle-related injuries treated at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, the injuries sustained from ATV crashes are much more severe, resulting in more admissions to the intensive care unit and more operative procedures," said Dr. Rebeccah Brown, Assistant Director of Trauma Services. "Just because a child has the physique to fit comfortably on an adult-sized ATV does not mean that he has the maturity and judgement to handle it safely," stated Dr. Brown.

Will CPSC Act to Protect Children?

Last August, the Consumer Federation of America, American Academy of Pediatrics and seven other medical and conservation groups submitted a formal petition to CPSC requesting that it issue a national rule barring the sale of adult-size ATVs for use by children under age 16. In response, the Commission requested public comment last fall and held a field hearing on ATV safety in Morgantown, WV in June. In addition, CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton independently held several other public meetings on this issue in Alaska in July.

"A national safety standard issued by CPSC would have many benefits," stated Weintraub. "It would provide protection for every child and send a powerful message to parents about how dangerous large ATVs are for children."

"It is time for CPSC to take the driver's seat on this issue and protect the American people from these dangerous machines," said Sean Smith, Public Lands Director for Bluewater Network.

Some parents who have lost their children in ATV crashes believe a clear statement from CPSC could help other parents avoid their heartbreak. Susan and Tom Rabe lost their 10-year-old son in 2002 when the adult-size ATV he was driving rolled over on him. They are committed to helping other parents avoid their tragedy.

"Adult-size four-wheelers should not be ridden by kids under any circumstances," the Rabes said. "A law may be necessary to send that message. We use laws to protect our children in many ways. If someone had taken action to pass a law and work to educate consumers about ATV dangers, we would have been celebrating Kyle's 12th birthday with him this past weekend."

Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of 300 consumer groups, with a combined membership of more than 50 million people. CFA was founded in 1968 to advance the consumers' interest through advocacy and education.

The Natural Trails and Waters Coalition includes more than 100 conservation, recreation and other groups working to protect and restore all public lands and waters from the damage caused by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, jet skis and all other off-road vehicles.

Bluewater Network is a national organization aggressively confronting the root causes of climate change and fighting environmental damage from the shipping, oil, and motorized recreation industries.

The report can be found at any of the web sites listed above.

Click here to read the report.