- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

At least 555 persons — of whom one in five were younger than 16 — were killed in all-terrain vehicle accidents in 2006 nationwide, according to a report released yesterday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman, said the report is aimed to “make the riding experience safer, because we know there are certain dangers our riders are experiencing right now.”

The report said every state had at least one death attributed to ATVs since 1982. Pennsylvania has had the highest number, with 420 deaths blamed on ATV-related accidents. California, West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky also are among the states with the highest numbers of ATV-related deaths.

Mr. Wolfson said the true number of fatalities might be higher because of the lag time in reporting by coroners and hospitals across the nation.

“CPSC is now seeing for the first time an average of more than 800 deaths per year on ATVs,” he said. “We’ve never seen estimated deaths that high before.”

The CPSC also estimated in its annual report that ATVs were to blame for the emergency-room treatment of injuries to more than 146,600 people in 2006.

In 2005, the number of confirmed deaths related to ATVs was 666; the CPSC estimates the toll for that year could reach 870.

Although overall injuries have risen steadily since 1997, injuries to children were down from 44,700 in 2004 to 39,300 in 2006.

The industry contends that the problem is not the ATV, but the driver.

“ATVs have never been shown to be an unsafe product, but there have been bad decisions made by people sitting on the seat,” said Mike Mount, a spokesman for the California-based Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

The CPSC wants the buyers, at the time of purchase, to confirm that they will not allow children to ride adult-sized ATVs.

The industry is under a voluntary agreement with the CPSC that dealers not sell adult-sized ATVs to buyers who might let children ride them.

The CPSC also has been considering lifting restrictions on the engine size of youth ATVs, allowing manufacturers to make bigger models to accommodate larger young riders so they would not ride the adult-sized vehicles.

“We do not want 11- and 12-year-olds on ATVs that can go 50 miles an hour and weigh 600 pounds,” Mr. Wolfson said. “That is a recipe for death.”

Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel at the Consumer Federation of America, accused the industry of not working toward a productive solution. “Instead of working to keep children off adult-size ATVs and creating meaningful standards to decrease ATV hazards, the ATV industry has been prioritizing the protection of their economic interest and seeking to shift the blame from their vehicles to the riders,” she said.

Renee R. Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, agreed: “Clearly, just telling kids to ride their ATVs safely isn’t enough to keep them safe.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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