Foot-Dragging Charged in ATV Safety
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Industry, government and parents are pointing at one another in an effort to place the blame for the rising toll of deaths and injuries from all-terrain vehicles.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission drew criticism at a congressional hearing Tuesday as a ″wimp″ agency, dragging its feet on the dangers of these three- and four-wheel off-road vehicles.
The commission’s chairman, however, pointed to the vehicle manufacturers, claiming they have been disappointingly slow in developing voluntary safety standards.
Both a representative of the ATV manufacturers and a member of Congress contended that proper parental supervision could have prevented many of the injuries.
And the mother of a seriously injured teen-ager said it’s also unfair to lay on parents the entire responsibility for keeping their children away from dangerous vehicles.
The focus of the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce, consumer protection and competitiveness was the thousands of all- terrain vehicles which have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Their growing sales have been accompanied by a sharply rising death and injury toll, including nearly 700 fatalities and hundreds of thousands of hospital visits in the last five years, according to the safety commission.
Subcommittee chairman James Florio, D-N.J., opened the hearing by saying that while the safety commission has done extensive studies of ATV safety, its inaction has led some to suggest it has become ″the biggest wimp agency in government.″
Mary Ellen Fise, product safety director of the Consumer Federation of America, charged that the CPSC has ″shirked its responsibility, has dragged its feet and acquiesced to industry’s timetable for the development of a voluntary standard.″
Dr. Mark D. Widome of the American Academy of Pediatrics expressed ″dismay″ that the vehicles are still being sold.
″How many more children must we see die, must we see suffer brain injury or permanent paralysis before measures are taken? ... ATVs are not safe,″ Widome told the subcommittee.
″This is one industry where I am very disappointed in the progress″ of developing voluntary safety standards, CPSC Chairman Terrence M. Scanlon told the subcommittee.
He said the industry promised to set up rider training programs and to develop voluntary safety standards, but has been slow to do so.
In addition, Scanlon said the industry has rejected the commission’s request that it halt sales of small all-terrain vehicles designed for youngsters.
But Alan Isley of the industry’s Specialty Vehicle Institute of America responded that ATVs are safe when ridden properly.
″Most accidents could be avoided if youngsters are properly supervised, outfitted with safety equipment, do not ride double and ride only on a model suitable for young riders,″ he said.
The industry has resisted the suggestion that it abandon small vehicles designed for children, contending that would only increase the injuries as youngsters turned to the larger models.
After an investigation lasting more than two years, the safety commission has proposed a recall-like program for manufacturers to offer refunds to consumers who want them, Scanlon said. And he said the Justice Department currently is considering a safety commission request that it take legal action against the industry.
But Rep. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, told the subcommiittee the deaths and injuries associated with these widely popular vehicles are not the fault of the manufacturers.
What is needed is safety information and training for riders, Craig said, not ″improperly placed government intervention.″
While nearly half the deaths and injuries from these vehicles involve youngsters, it is because they are not properly trained and supervised, Craig said.
The responsibility for this is not that of industry, but of parents, Craig said.
But Gary Leigh Pleasants of Clarksburg, Md., responded that ″it is unfair that the burden is on the parent to protect the child from the machine.″
Mrs. Pleasants said her 13-year-old son Billy had been close to death after an ATV accident last year in which he suffered a neck injury.
The boy had been told not to use the machine at the time, she said, but added: ″How many parents are going to grab the keys and hide them every time you leave the house? It just can’t be done.″
″I really thought this machine was safe. It looks cute and cuddly. It’s not,″ Mrs. Pleasants concluded.
According to the CPSC, from 1982 to 1986, there were 644 deaths and 268,000 hospital-treated injuries associated with the vehicles. Nearly half those deaths and injuries involved people under 16.
The vehicles, nearly all made by Japanese-based companies, are widely used on farms and for recreational purposes in rural areas. Officials estimate there are 2.3 million ATVs in use.
The commission study found that while the machines are available to people of nearly any age, children under 12 are unable to operate them safely and those under 16 have an increased risk of death and injury.
In addition, major risk factors include riding double, drinking and riding, and using the machines on roads.