CPSC to resume undercover checks of ATV dealers

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After not doing so since early 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to resume its undercover checks of ATV dealers to see whether they’re willing to sell an adult-sized ATV for use by children.

The resumption is one recommendation of three in a new ATV study published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (click here to download a PDF of the 63-page document). The commission has agreed to the following suggestions:

  • “First, when sufficient data are available, assess whether the size, power and weight of ATVs have increased in recent years and, if so, whether and how those increases correlate with the severity of injuries. Commission staff should consider the results of the assessment in the agency’s future rulemaking on ATV issues.
  • “Second, resume undercover checks of ATV dealers, focusing on new market entrants, which have not been tested, to assess dealers’ willingness to sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children.
  • “Third, consider how the commission’s enforcement of the age recommendations can be strengthened and act accordingly. Options could include, but are not limited to, requiring ATV manufacturers and distributors to 1) provide more specific language about how they will enforce their dealers’ compliance with the age recommendations and 2) make dealership agreements with dealers available for commission staff to inspect how the agreements address the age recommendations. In addition, the commission could consider making all of the action plans publicly available.”

The CPSIA of 2008 — ironically the same act banning most youth quads due to their lead content — required the GAO to conduct the study, which reports on how ATVs are used, as well as on the nature and costs of crashes. The study notes that according to CPSC staff estimates, the number of four-wheeled ATVs in use went from 3.6 million in 1999 to 10.2 million in 2008.

Since last April (and also because of the CPSIA), federal law has required ATV distributors to have an approved action plan on file with the CPSC. The plans had been voluntary. The GAO study says the number of companies with filed action plans went from eight in 2008 to 37 this past February.

Action plans require, among other things, that ATV distributors and manufacturers conduct undercover studies to check compliance with the age recommendations. The study says the CPSC expects the companies to conduct at least 50 undercover checks per year. Furthermore, the agency requires those companies with recently approved plans to check each of their dealers at least twice a year. If a dealer commits more than one violation, the companies are supposed to terminate their agreement.

As part of the study, the GAO conducted its own undercover inspections of 10 dealerships in four states. Seven of the 10 were willing to sell adult-sized ATVs for use by children. (The stat became the focus of a Capital News Connection article titled “GAO Runs Sting on ATV Dealers in Four States.”)

The GAO also sent e-mails to six dealers in which it expressed interest in buying an adult-sized ATV for a child who was 13 or 14 years old. One dealer responded by recommending an adult-sized ATV. Another dealer wrote that it liked a certain adult-sized model, but didn’t explicitly recommend it for a child. The other four dealers did not respond.

As mentioned, the CPSC conducted similar stings until 2008, when the agency turned its attention toward the CPSIA. Compliance rates among studied dealers decreased from 85 percent in 1999 to 63 percent in 2007. But the results are heavily skewed. Staff focused on checking dealers with a history of disregarding the age recommendations in states with high rates of fatalities. Interestingly, agency staff also asked the GAO not to disclose the number of dealers checked “to protect the integrity of their investigative work.”

Lead Laws Worsen Problem
According to the GAO study, three major ATV makers said they no longer sell ATVs designed for children 12 and younger because of the “lead laws” dictated by the CPSIA. The CPSC has granted a temporary stay of enforcement, but one manufacturer reportedly told the GAO that complying even under the stay is too burdensome in terms of testing and reporting. The stay also doesn’t preclude state authorities from enforcing the laws.

Industry advocates — and even CPSC staff — agree that lead exposure from ATVs is insignificant. They also argue that fewer youth-sized ATVs on the market may result in more children riding adult-sized ATVs.

The GAO study says another manufacturer continues to make youth-sized ATVs by using lead-compliant parts and, in some cases, redesigning the vehicles to make lead-containing parts inaccessible. But even this OEM isn’t sure whether its vehicles will be legal once the stay of enforcement expires in May 2011.

The Motorcycle Industry Council believes the best solution is for Congress to amend the CPSIA to exempt or permit exclusions for youth vehicles. It urges dealers to contact their congressmen in Washington via http://stopthebannow.com.