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OPINION – An alarming view of the ATV industry

December 4, 2006
Filed under Columns

The latest national election has come and gone and the best thing I can remember from it is a candidate’s flyer that arrived in my mailbox with the ironic headline, “Why bother?”
There was more to the flyer than that, but after endless TV commercials bashing one candidate or another, it seemed like an appropriate time to take a pause from politics.
How wrong I was.
The weeks to come will offer another interesting election of sorts on which the powersports industry should keep a keen eye: the naming of a federal government commissioner. That hardly sounds earth-shattering, I know, but consider that the aforementioned commissioner could have a major impact on the ATV industry. Also consider the commissioner will sit next to two Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) officials that seemingly have vastly different views on the ATV industry.
Earlier this year, the CPSC issued proposals on changing ATV regulations, much of which delve into youth safety concerns. In the wake of that proposal, the two CPSC commissioners wrote opinions, actually referred to as official “statements,” on the regulation proposals.
The two statements could have not been more polar opposite.
Commissioner Nancy Nord’s two-page statement generally recalled her first-hand education on the issue, including the fact that she had met with the different parties affected by the proposal, including industry representatives. At one point, she noted the discussions “brought home the key point that how ATVs are used is often the most important factor contributing to ATV incidents.”
The industry insider might read into that: To curtail the increasing number of ATV-related injuries and deaths, parents ought to start paying attention to their kids, not to mention the warning labels.
On the other hand there is Commissioner Thomas Moore. In his eight-page statement, Moore took several pointed jabs at the industry.
There was: “It is, I suspect, the new entrants’ increase in market share, not their alleged noncompliance, that has suddenly made the industry decide there needs to be a mandatory standard …”
And, there was this: “… language has been added to the preamble to let the ATV manufacturers know that we are not letting them off the safety hook …”
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, there was this: “I think even one well-publicized enforcement action would get the attention of the industry …”
The industry insider might read into that: We better hope the yet-to-be-named commissioner doesn’t take the same view of the industry as Moore does, or we’re in big trouble.
To be fair, Moore does not blame the current wave of ATV safety concerns solely on the industry. “ATVs are not toys, but many parents treat them as if they were,” he writes.
But the underlining suspicion that he casts on the industry is more than a bit alarming.
At one point, Moore acknowledges the industry and the CPSC have made attempts to keep children off adult-sized ATVs by instructing dealers not to sell adult units to a consumer who would let such a thing happen. But, Moore said such practices have proven to be inadequate and as part of his proof he cites a TV news station’s report on five dealers’ practices. Five dealers?
There are thousands of dealers selling ATVs in the country and the commissioner of a federal policymaker cites a TV report on five dealers to indicate the state of a voluntary standard’s effectiveness? That’s not only unfair, it’s downright scary. Again, to be fair on our part, Moore also notes OEMs and the commission have monitored dealers, with the latter group finding other examples of “dealers knowingly evading the age guidelines.” But how many dealers? And what was the scope of their test? And were the CPSC’s findings consistent with the manufacturers’? Moore doesn’t bother to address any of those rather important specifics in his eight pages, which has to make the industry’s wait for the naming of the third commissioner an anxious period.
When the third commissioner will be appointed is uncertain. At some point, President Bush is expected to make a formal nomination, which then has to be approved by Congress. And at that point, we can gather together again and make our own statements on the effectiveness of Congress’ decision and its impact. Or we can take Commissioner Moore’s direction and judge the entire process on the votes of five congressmen.
Neil Pascale is editor of Powersports Business. Contact him at npascale@ehlertpublishing.com.

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