Product safety commission head holds ATV hearing

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was in Anchorage Tuesday to hear public testimony on the use and misuse of all-terrain vehicles.

Commission chairman Hal Stratton held the hearing to see how Alaskans use their ATVs and get a regional perspective on the escalating numbers of ATV injuries nationwide. The off-road machines are used for everything from transportation, hunting, search and rescues, hauling supplies and recreation.

The full commission held another hearing last month in Morgantown, W.Va., and is considering future meetings in other ATV-heavy areas, possibly California and Arizona, Stratton said.

In Alaska, hearings also are planned in Dillingham on Saturday and Fairbanks on Sunday.

''We hope to learn why ATV injuries have skyrocketed in the last four or five years and get some ideas to reducing those injuries,'' Stratton said during a break in the daylong hearing. ''It will give us a database to start with, although it may not snowball into new laws from the commission.''

Nationwide, ATV injuries requiring a trip to the hospital have more than doubled in recent years from an estimated 54,700 in 1997 to 111,700 in 2001, according to the commission. There were 4,541 ATV-related deaths in the United States between 1982 and 2001. Of those, 83 occurred in Alaska, where alcohol is often a contributing factor in accidents, according to speakers attending Tuesday's meeting.

Much of the problem is lack of proper training on the powerful machines, said many who testified.

Some dealers complained that as many as 50 percent of their customers want to take advantage of the free training offered with purchases through the ATV Safety Institute. But they said the institute often fails to follow through.

''We're doing out part but it's not going any further,'' said Bob Walker, an ATV salesman at River & Sea Marine Supply in Soldotna.

Institute representatives told Stratton that claim is disconcerting and they would check it out. But they said they were encouraged that so many Alaska consumers are interested in training.

''The safety of customers is our primary concern. That's why we're here,'' said Tim Buche, president of Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a safety institute affiliate.

Bill Larry, owner of Alaska Fun and Sports Center in Fairbanks, had nothing but praise for his relationship with institute trainers. He called them a consistent source of information for customers and dismissed the earlier testimony.

''I don't know where they're getting that from,'' he said. ''Maybe we do things differently in Fairbanks.''

Speakers offered a wide range of opinions for reducing injuries. Education about ATV safety, particularly in villages. More involvement by parents to monitor their children's riding. Mandatory hands-on training for novice owners of both new and used ATVs.

Some advocated passing a mandatory helmet law. But others said enforcement would be difficult, even if people were required to buy helmets with their ATVs.

''If they passed a helmet law, that would make me a lot of money, but would people wear them?'' Larry said. ''Awareness is the key. Instead of forcing something on people, keep it in front of them.''

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