Federal Consumer Watchdog Agency Turns Blind Eye to ATV Safety Agency Staff Recommend Against a National Safety Standard for Kids

Bluewater Network * Consumer Federation of America National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses Natural Trails and Waters Coalition * U.S. PIRG

February 8, 2005
Scott Kovarovics (NTWC)
(202) 429-2696
Rachel Weintraub (CFA)
(202) 939-1012

Washington, DC - In a document made public late last week, staff of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommend that the Commission not develop a national safety standard that would better protect children under 16 years old from dangerous adult-size all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). This action comes one week after the Commission reported that ATV-related deaths and injuries broke records for the second consecutive year and that children continue to suffer a disproportionate share of serious injuries and fatalities.

"The recommendation of CPSC staff to deny our petition is profoundly disappointing, does not serve the public interest, and fails to take into account numerous benefits of the existence of a federal ATV safety law," stated Rachel Weintraub, Assistant General Counsel at Consumer Federation of America. "While the rulemaking process is far from over, we are deeply concerned about the continuous rising tide of death and injuries on ATVs and CPSC's failure to propose or implement any type of solution."

Specifically, the staff recommend that the Commission deny a petition submitted in August 2002 by Consumer Federation of America, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, and six other national medical, conservation and consumer groups requesting that CPSC develop a federal regulation barring the sale of adult-size ATVs for use by children under age 16. Staff make this recommendation while also concluding that a national standard barring the sale of adult-size ATVs for use by children under would have "substantial benefits" and "[G]etting children to drive youth models rather than more powerful adult models could reduce the injury risk by half."(emphasis added)

"I work on the front lines as a pediatric emergency physician and have been an unwilling witness to the escalating carnage among children due to ATVs," said Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH, Director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio. "It is incredibly tragic that CPSC is on the brink of letting this opportunity of saving young lives slip by. With one vote, CPSC could save more lives than I could ever hope to save in an entire career working in a major trauma center."

"As nurses who initiate immediate care to patients admitted for ATV injuries, the monetary costs for CPSC to regulate ATV dealers and concern that some children could be teased are insignificant when compared to the sorrow and pain of parents and family members of ATV victims," said Linda Altizer, RN and member of the Executive Board of Directors of National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses. "If stronger regulation of ATV safety would save the life of one youth, it would be worth it all."

The recommendation glosses over most benefits - it does not even consider that a single life could be saved -- and concentrates almost exclusively on monetary and other costs associated with a national standard. Many of the "costs" cited by staff pale in comparison to the benefits of saving lives and reducing serious injuries. For example:

  • It might cost CPSC $350,000 annually to more aggressively monitor ATV dealers for compliance with this standard.
  • Staff attempt to justify their recommendation in part by arguing that families would face "transaction costs" associated with the sale of youth ATVs, including placing a classified ad and scheduling appointments with prospective purchasers.
  • The recommendation cites "foregone benefits" for some families that elect to purchase a youth ATV, rather than an adult model, for use by a child because adult family members could not ride a youth ATV.
  • Staff maintain that a federal regulation barring the sale of adult ATVs for use by children is unlikely to have more impact on prospective purchasers than industry warning labels.
  • Staff even argue that one reason not to develop a national standard is that some children could face "peer stigma" when riding youth ATVs.

"Once again, the CPSC has found that the costs of regulation outweigh the benefits of death and injury prevention," said U.S. PIRG Consumer Advocate Lindsey Johnson. "The CPSC staff acknowledge that banning the sale of adult-size ATVs for use by children would have substantial benefits, but in their recommendation, they focus on excuses for inaction rather than on legitimate cost-benefit analysis."

The staff report validates points raised by Consumer Federation, Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, and Bluewater Network over the past two and a half years. Most significantly, it highlights how dealer compliance with age recommendations dropped significantly after the ATV industry assumed a voluntary approach to safety in 1998. The report states: "During the period covered by the consent decrees, roughly 90 percent of dealers were in compliance with the age recommendations. Compliance with the recommendations appears to have declined in recent years; in 1998, compliance was 85 percent, and in the years 2002 and 2003, 60 percent. However, for 2004, the compliance was 70 percent. The declining dealer compliance with age recommendations from 1998 to 2004 may be related to reduced stringency of the ATV Voluntary Action Plans, relative to the legally binding consent decrees." (emphasis added)

"The evidence of significant industry noncompliance with age recommendations is a powerful indictment of the voluntary approach to ATV safety," said Scott Kovarovics, Director of the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition. "If that isn't bad enough, CPSC's response is to continue with this failed policy rather than provide real leadership in response to this problem."

In addition, the staff acknowledge the research and day-to-day experiences of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals -- children under age 16 do not have the range of physical and mental skills necessary to safely operate ATVs. The report concludes: "In summary, research on children's developmental skills suggests that most children under 16 years old are lacking skills that would allow them to safely operate ATVs in all situation."(emphasis added)

The Commission has three main options in response to the staff recommendation: 1) deny the petition; 2) grant the petition and initiate the rulemaking process; or 3) defer a decision until a later date.

The following groups submitted the petition to CPSC in August 2002: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, Bluewater Network, Consumer Federation of America, The Center for Injury Research and Policy, The Danny Foundation for Crib and Child Product Safety, Kids in Danger, National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)