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ATV casualties: Another year of bad news

Consumer Reports News: February 20, 2008 04:39 PM

The numbers are in, and they're not pretty. Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released its annual report on ATV (all-terrain vehicle) deaths and injuries. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat software to see the report.) We can all debate where the fault lies (irresponsible riders? a regulation-resistant industry? lax rule makers?) until the cows come home, but that won't change the facts. Although the numbers below are the recorded deaths and injuries, the CPSC estimates the real figures are even higher. The agency extrapolates from reported deaths to calculate a national estimate. For 2005, for example, the CPSC now estimates there were 870 deaths, up from an earlier estimate of 767. For 2006, we expect the number to be even higher.

  • ATVs killed 111 children under 16 and injured 39,300 seriously enough to send them to the emergency room in 2006.
  • A total of 555 deaths and an estimated 146,600 injuries from ATVs were logged for that year.
  • The ATV industry currently operates under its own voluntary standards. The CPSC, which is responsible for regulating ATVs, proposed some rulemaking in 2006. Welcome to 2008, and though we still don't have regulations, the agency did find time last week to put out a 119-page status report (Adobe Acrobat required to access the report) describing its progress toward getting some on the books.

Not that the CPSC thinks ATVs are safe. Far from it. On its educational Web site,, the agency states, "ATVs are not toys! They are powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles." Given that ATVs can move at 60 miles per hour or faster and can weigh 700 pounds, it's no surprise that 27 percent of ATV injuries in 2006 were to kids under 16.

The CPSC spells out the various ATV hazards: "collisions with stationary objects (e.g. a tree or a fence), moving highway motor vehicles, and moving off-road vehicles; encountering rough, changing, or uneven grade with subsequent overturning of the ATV and/or ejection of the victim; overturning of the ATV on apparently level ground; and failure to turn or missing a turn in the roadway or trail, with subsequent collision, overturning of the ATV, and/or ejection of the victim."

Even if riders manage to avoid all of the above-mentioned collisions, they may still be in danger. On the same day the CPSC released its updated list of deaths and injuries, Polaris Industries recalled an additional 50,000 ATVs for faulty electronic control modules that can cause fires. The first recall was in 2005; since then, the company has received an additional 372 reports of smoking or melted ECMs.

We reiterate our call for strong, mandatory ATV safety standards. In the meantime, parents should never allow their children under the age of 16 to drive or ride as a passenger on an ATV.

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