FAIRBANKS (AP) Injury rates for all-terrain vehicle riders jumped 51 percent between 1997 and 2001, according to data released Wednesday by consumer and environmental groups. At the same time, injury rates fell among young children and older teens.
An ATV industry spokesman said the lower injury rate among some young people was great news.
But the rise in injuries among young teens and all other age groups prompted consumer and environmental groups to renew their call for state and federal governments to prohibit riders under 16 years old.
The rise in injury rates came during years when manufacturers of four-wheelers the most common ATV have run a voluntary safety campaign with warning stickers, cash-back classes and machine-size recommendations for children.
''The voluntary approach is failing on all three counts,'' Rachel Weintraub, an attorney with the Consumer Federation of America, told reporters at the National Press Club. ''This is not only an accident waiting to happen, it is an accident that is happening.''
The study, which used data compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, found that at least 97 percent of children under 16 who were hurt by ATVs in 2001 were riding vehicles larger than recommended for their age.
Tim Buche, president of the industry's Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, said manufacturers should not be blamed for the statistics. Their safety campaign is comprehensive, but injuries still occur when the machines are used improperly.
''In Alaska, over 90 percent of the cases involved one or more warned-against behaviors,'' Buche said.
Dr. Jeffrey Upperman of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh said such warnings are largely irrelevant because children and adolescents don't have the mental maturity to apply such cautions to their behavior. ATVs should be driven only by those over 16, he said.
Weintraub said the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission cannot ban the use of ATVs by children. That authority is held by states. Rather, Weintraub wants the commission to adopt a national rule outlawing the sale of adult-size ATVs for use by children under 16.
The commission just finished airing the issue in two hearings, one of which was held in Alaska.
Buche noted that a federal ban on sales for use by children would be difficult to enforce. Instead, four-wheeler manufacturers have endorsed state laws banning children from adult-sized ATVs.
He acknowledged, though, that many ATV users adamantly oppose such state laws.
According to the figures released Wednesday, injuries per million hours driven dropped by 13 percent among children ages 6 to 12. The same measure also dropped by 6 percent among 16- to 18- year-olds.
Among children ages 12 to 16, though, injuries per million hours driven increased by 63 percent. Overall injury rates were up 51 percent.
Scott Kovarovics of The Wilderness Society said the industry safety campaign has targeted early teens, so the numbers show the voluntary approach has not worked. He blamed the overall injury rate increase on the increased size of four-wheelers.
From 1997 to 2001, production of ATVs with motors smaller than 300 cubic centimeters either declined or leveled off. Production of machines with motors 400 cubic centimeters or larger grew more than 200 percent, the report said.
Buche said there is no basis for the claim that larger machines caused the higher injury rates.
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