WASHINGTON – Responding to rising injuries and deaths of children riding all-terrain vehicles, a top regulator has reversed course and ordered his staff to consider whether a tougher government approach is needed to boost safety.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (search) Chairman Hal Stratton sent a memo to his staff late Wednesday ordering a review. He previously has expressed opposition to more federal regulation, instead supporting voluntary industry standards and more rider education.
"This memo orders a full top-to-bottom review of any and all regulations that could be done to really make a difference in reducing the number of injuries and deaths," agency spokesman Leonardo Alcivar (search). "Everything is on the table."
The commission is weighing a 2002 petition filed by doctors and consumer groups to ban sales of adult-size ATVs (search) intended for children under 16. Stratton previously has said a ban would not mean fewer accidents, noting that most accidents are due to improper behavior such as riding on paved roads or not wearing protective gear.
Among the areas Stratton ordered reviewed are whether pre-purchase training and certification should be required, if manufacturers should develop an ATV model suitable for 14-year-olds and whether ATV sales outlets should provide child injury data at the time of purchase.
A February CPSC staff report argued that restricting sales would not necessarily keep children off larger ATVs, since the CPSC cannot control what riders and parents ultimately do with their four-wheelers.
Alcivar said a fuller approach to ATV safety is necessary because of "the failure of the industry to come to the table in a meaningful way and the lack of real input on the part of the petitioners" on how to reduce ATV injuries and deaths.
Stratton's notice comes less than a month after he met with mothers of children killed on adult-size ATVs. The families told him that the petition — even if difficult to regulate — would make parents more aware of ATV dangers and less likely to let their children ride larger vehicles.
The increasing popularity of the four-wheelers has meant more accidents, in particular among youngsters. Children under 16 accounted for about a third of the nearly 6,000 ATV deaths reported since 1982, according to the CPSC. Of fatalities where engine size and driver age are known, 86 percent involved children on adult-size ATVs.