WASHINGTON – An estimated 740 people, a record, died in all-terrain vehicle accidents last year, the government said Thursday as it took a step toward oversight of the vehicles.
The estimated toll, which includes 470 documented cases, compares with an estimated 617 deaths in 2003, and estimates between 538 and 599 annual deaths in the previous three years, according to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (search) Thursday.
Also, an all-time high of at least 136,100 people went to the hospital last year for injuries involving the four-wheel motorcycles that have a wide seat and low stand, and a third of those hurt were younger than 16.
In 2003, there were at least 125,500 injuries.
"We have a serious national epidemic in this country of people getting killed and injured in very large numbers when they ride ATVS," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety at the Consumer Federation of America (search).
The group is pushing for ATV regulation, especially for child use of the adult-sized vehicles.
The commission said it is considering putting in place federal rules for ATVs and is taking public comment for 60 days.
A patchwork of state regulations applies to ATVs, but there are no federal laws governing the vehicles, Weintraub said. The commission does have voluntary agreements with major ATV manufacturers to discourage sales of ATVs intended to be used by youngsters.
Commissioner Nancy Nord (search) said the high number of injuries and deaths "warrants an aggressive and comprehensive review by the commission of all aspects of the problem, followed by appropriate commissions action."
In a statement, the commission's chairman said an increase in ATV sales at least partly explains the increase in injuries and deaths. Hal Stratton (search) urged people to help the commission by offering "critical information and practical solutions."
The commission has not ruled out a 2002 petition by Weintraub's group to hold ATV dealers accountable for knowingly selling the adult-sized vehicles for use by children.
"There is much parents need to know about these machines and about the death and injuries that are occurring to children who ride them," commissioner Thomas Moore (search) said in a statement.