WASHINGTON — The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted Tuesday to confirm an agreement negotiated by the Justice Department to ban the sale of three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and take other steps designed to reduce deaths and injuries associated with the product.
The preliminary decree requires the industry to provide safety courses and warning labels but does not mandate the customer refunds sought by some congressmen and consumer advocates.
Accidents involving ATVs in both three- and four-wheeled versions have been blamed for 20 deaths and 7,000 injuries a month. About half the victims of the estimated 880 deaths and 300,000 injuries since 1982 were children under 16.
Critics of ATVs had urged the commission to stand by its decision of a year ago that would have sought to allow owners of three-wheeled versions to return them for unquestioned refunds. The proposed refund also would have applied to consumers who returned four-wheelers intended for use by children under 16. The three-wheelers, about half the estimated 2.5 million machines in use, are considered the more dangerous.
Reverses Earlier Decision
But the commission this month reversed its earlier decision to require the vehicles' five manufacturers to give refunds on demand.
The industry had estimated that a voluntary refund would cost at least $1 billion, and said accidents are caused by unsafe riding practices, not defective vehicles.
Under the agreement approved Tuesday, the industry will immediately stop selling all three-wheeled ATVs and buy back those in dealer inventories, launch a nationwide safety training campaign, place warning labels on vehicles, raise the minimum operating age for most vehicles to 16 and mail letters to ATV owners to warn them of safety risks caused by improper riding.
The commission will negotiate the final terms during the next 45 days with the industry, which is dominated by four companies--American Honda Inc., U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., Yamaha Motor Corp. and Kawasaki Motor Corp.
Says Vehicles Are Defective
Stuart Stattler, a commission member from 1979 to 1986, called the decision not to pursue a refund a "disaster." He said the commission's evidence on three-wheeled ATVs "proves incontrovertibly that these vehicles are designed in a defective way, are a defective vehicle and are an imminent hazard to the public."
He said the "industry-dictated" remedies do "next to nothing" about the three-wheeled ATVs already owned by consumers.
"As long as those three-wheeled vehicles are still out there, the rate of injuries and deaths is not going to decline, no matter how much training and how many warnings you give," Stattler said.
Kurt Antonius, a spokesman for Honda, which controls 55% of the ATV market, did not comment on the settlement but disputed claims about the safety of the vehicles.
Points to Rider Behavior
"To my knowledge, the government has not found any defect in the design of ATVs whatsoever," Antonius said. "Their statistics show that rider behavior is the major cause of accidents."
Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) denounced the proposed settlement in a letter to Arnold Burns, deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.
"There is no effective means in the settlement to get many of the present riders off these 'rolling death machines,' " D'Amato said.
James V. Lacy, the safety commission's general counsel, said he is confident the remedies will work.
Have Option to Sell
"It's our hope that the information campaign, coupled with the availability of new training, will give consumers the option to use their vehicles correctly if they so desire, or not to use them and sell them as quickly as possible if they so choose," Lacy said.