According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s latest estimates, from December 30, 1987 to the end of 1991, there were more than 1033 deaths and 224,500 injuries from all ATVs. Almost 40% of the victims have been, and will continue to be, children under 16. During this period approximately 415 children died and 90,000 were injured riding ATVs. The CPSC currently estimates that there will be 239 deaths and 48,100 injuries from ATVs in 1992 alone.
Although the number of deaths and injuries from three-wheel ATVs has decreased since 1988, this was expected to occur since ATV manufacturers had already begun shifting sales from the three-wheel to four-wheel models. By December, 1987 manufacturers had already announced they were no longer producing three-wheel models.
On the other hand, the number of deaths from four-wheel ATVs has steadily increased since 1988. In fact, the CPSC estimates that the number of deaths from four-wheel ATVs will increase from 97 in 1986 to a projected 165 in 1992, a 70% increase. The number of injuries on four-wheel ATVs is also on the rise and the CPSC estimates that injuries will increase from 18,900 in 1986 to a projected 28,600 in 1992.
The Government’s Response to the ATV Problem
In 1984 the CPSC began investigating the hazards of ATVs and began rulemaking in 1985 to address the risk of ATV injuries. In December 1987, the Department of Justice filed an action in federal district court asking for a court-ordered remedy to protect consumers from ATV-related deaths and injuries on behalf of the CPSC. On the same day the CPSC filed a “preliminary consent decree” that it had negotiated with the ATV manufacturers.
Concerned that the preliminary decree would not adequately protect the public, especially children, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen, and the American Academy of Pediatrics moved to intervene and requested a hearing on the adequacy of the decree before approving it in final form. Although Judge Gerhard Gesell denied intervenor status, he permitted the applicants to participate as amici, and to submit proposed amendments to the decree.
The Consent Decree
In April 1988, the Court finalized the Consent Decree and, instead of prohibiting the sale of ATVs for the use of children, required manufacturers to include certain age “recommendations” in their ATV advertising: ATVs with engine sizes greater than 70 cc should be used only by children 12 and older, and ATVs with engine sizes greater than 90 cc should be used only those over 16.
The Consent Decree further requires ATVs to be labeled to warn purchasers that children under 16 should not ride adult-sized ATVs, and requires manufacturers to use their best efforts to ensure that dealers abide by these age recommendations and convey them to consumers, both orally and through the distribution of written materials. In addition, the decree required the ATV manufacturers to stop selling new three-wheel ATVs — a practice the industry had already stopped before the CPSC complaint was filed — to provide free driver training, and to launch a public awareness campaign to alert consumers to the hazards of ATVs.
In response to the concerns of the consumer groups and pediatricians, the Court asked the CPSC and ATV manufacturers to modify the Consent Decree to include provisions that:
Require the CPSC to maintain in their Public Reading Room a complete library of materials relating to the Consent Decree; and,
Allow the CPSC to seek additional remedies if, after a two and a half year test period the decree had not been effective in significantly reducing the number of deaths and injuries from ATVs.
ATVs Kill and Harm Children
Since the decree was approved, 95% of children 12-15 years old and 65% of children younger than 11 years old, who ride ATVs, continue to ride adult-sized ATVs. Ninety percent of the deaths and injures to children have occurred on adult-sized ATVs. Clearly, the Consent Decree’s provisions which require manufacturers to warn prospective buyers that children under 16 should not operate adult-sized ATVs have not been effective in protecting children.
ATV dealers continue to sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children. Nationwide surveys by the CPSC and PIRG have consistently found that ATV dealers are willing to sell adult-sized ATVs for children. For example, a 1989 U.S. PIRG survey found that 54% of the ATV dealers surveyed were willing to sell an ATV for use by a ten year old.
CPSC Abandons ATV Safety Efforts
Deaths and injuries on four-wheel ATVs are on the rise, and every year almost 100 children die and 20,000 are injured riding ATVs. The Consent Decree’s age “recommendations” are clearly not effective in protecting children from this unnecessary risk. Nevertheless, on May 15, 1991, by a 2-1 vote, the CPSC decided to withdraw the rulemaking that had been pending since April 1985 and the agency terminated its efforts against the industry.
Court Asked to Strengthen the Consent DecreeOne of the major goals of the Consent Decree was to protect children from the risk of death and injury, but the age “recommendations” included in the Consent Decree clearly have not worked. The same four organizations that submitted arguments to the court in 1988 in an effort to strengthen the Consent Decree have now asked Judge Gesell for additional protection. On September 17, 1991, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen and the American Academy of Pediatrics filed a motion to intervene for the limited purpose of requesting the Court to enforce and modify the Consent Decree. The motion asked the Court to: 1) require the CPSC and ATV manufacturers to modify the Consent Decree to prohibit the sale of ATVs for the use of children, and 2) direct the CPSC to comply with its obligation to maintain a complete public library of materials relating to the Consent Decree. The groups argued that a prohibition on the sale of ATVs for use by children would send an unambiguous message to parents that the manufacturers are prohibited, by law, to sell an ATV for children. Thus, instead of “warnings” and age “recommendations”, both parents and their children would be told in strong, no uncertain terms, that the selling of ATVs for use by children is prohibited by the federal government.
Consent Decree Found “Not Nearly as Effective as Anticipated”
The Court responded with a memorandum and order on December 12, 1991, stating:
“After examining the evidence, the Court is satisfied that the Final Consent Decree is not nearly as effective as anticipated. The decision of CPSC not to invoke its rulemaking authority to implement more stringent regulations represents an unwillingness or inability to recognize what appears to be an obvious need for exercise of its expertise.”
Judge Gesell asked the groups for additional proposals for improving the decree, and allowed the groups, the CPSC, and that ATV distributors to submit additional evidence on the matter by April 15, 1992.
Recall Demanded of ATVs Sold for Children
In a submission filed January 15, 1992, the groups made several additional proposals to improve the effectiveness of the Consent Decree. For example, they asked the court to:
Require the ATV industry to recall and provide a refund for any adult-sized ATV that was purchased for a child since December 30, 1987 — the date the Consent Decree became effective;
Supplement the warnings required by the Consent Decree to ensure that children do not operate adult-sized ATVs; and,
Order the ATV industry to increase their efforts to ensure that their dealers do not sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children.
Evidence in support of these proposals was submitted to the Court on April 15. Judge Gesell’s decision is pending.
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