Injuries, Deaths Prompt Calls for Federal ATV Ban

Sales of all-terrain vehicles are up — and so are recreational vehicle injuries and deaths, especially among children. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission is weighing new safety rules. Brian Mann of North Country Public Radio reports on calls by consumer groups for a federal ban on ATVs.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And from technology to all-terrain vehicles. More Americans are riding four-wheeled ATVs for sport. Sales in 2005 are expected to top 900,000. But a federal agency says ATV crashes are causing too many deaths and serious injuries, especially among children. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering new safety rules. As North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, consumer and health groups want a federal ban on the sales of adult ATVs for use by children.

BRIAN MANN reporting:

In 1988, the federal government banned the sale of three-wheeled ATVs, citing a wave of injuries and deaths. The industry quickly converted to four-wheeled machines, and the sport's popularity exploded. But in the years since, researchers say more than 6,000 riders have been killed on the new models. Scott Wolfson with the Consumer Product Safety Commission says a third of the fatal crashes involve children riding adult machines.

Mr. SCOTT WOLFSON (Consumer Product Safety Commission): Not enough parents are realizing that it is deadly for children under the age of 16 to ride adult-size ATVs.

MANN: The federal government discourages manufacturers from selling full-power models for use by kids, but the guidelines are voluntary. And according to the commission, about a third of dealers don't comply. In 2004, more than 38,000 children were treated in hospital rooms for injuries caused by adult ATVs.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. CAROLYN ANDERSON (Son Killed in ATV Crash): We're going into James' room. It's become a shrine almost. It's pretty sad.

MANN: Carolyn Anderson lives outside of Boston. She stands in a room filled with baseball trophies. The bed is rumpled. She's left everything untouched since the summer of 2004 when her 14-year-old son took a trip with friends to New Hampshire. Two days after James left, she was notified that there had been an accident.

Ms. ANDERSON: So I asked the doctor `Is my son still alive?' and he said, `No, we're sorry.' And then we found out that James had been in an ATV crash.

MANN: In 2004, more than 130 children died on adult machines. Anderson says the answer is for the federal government to simply ban their sale for use by kids. But Mike Mount, a spokesman for an industry-funded group called the ATV Safety Institute, says that kind of restriction won't stop parents from making bad choices.

Mr. MIKE MOUNT (Spokesperson, ATV Safety Institute): If they go in and say, `I'm going to purchase this ATV for my 12-year-old son,' and I say, `I'm sorry, we can't sell you that,' they could easily just walk out and go to another dealership and say that they're purchasing that ATV for themselves.

MANN: Mount says the industry is working instead to educate parents using videos and pamphlets and free training classes. Many of the sport's enthusiasts say ATV riding can be safe for families and children with the right equipment and training. Jeff Parker heads a popular ATV club in northern New York.

Mr. JEFF PARKER (Head of Northern New York ATV Club): Any sport's risky. I mean, you know, you have your kids play football or baseball or anything, they're all risky. It's about having fun with your family. It's about doing things together.

MANN: But critics such as Rachel Weintraub with the group called the Consumer Federation say dealers and clubs regularly downplay the dangers of the big four-wheeled ATVs.

Ms. RACHEL WEINTRAUB (Consumer Federation): I hear from parents who have suffered the loss of their child or a child who has severe and permanent injuries that that's exactly what they thought. They thought that these were safer and they didn't pose the same type of hazards.

MANN: The Consumer Federation and the American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed banning the sale of full-powered machines for use by kids. James' mother Carolyn Anderson says that would send a clear message.

Ms. ANDERSON: A law would go a long way towards protecting children because people would see it's illegal. People tend to be law-abiding.

MANN: Scott Wolfson with the Consumer Products Safety Commission says a ban is possible. But the commission's staff issued a report in February 2005 urging members to vote against the measure, agreeing with industry that enforcement would be difficult. If the commission stops short of an outright ban, dealers may instead be required to hand out literature similar to cigarette pack warnings that describes the high rate of death and injury for young ATV riders. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.

CHIDEYA: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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