WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into whether regulations are needed to prevent children under age 16 from using all-terrain vehicles made for adults.
''What we've noticed is an increase in injuries and deaths. The question is why?'' commission spokesman Ken Giles said Thursday.
The commission decided Wednesday to consider a request by physicians' and consumer groups for federal rules to ban youngsters from riding the ATVs.
ATVs are three- or four-wheeled vehicles that have a wide stance, cushy tires and can be driven on dirt, rocks and trails. The three-wheel versions have not been made since 1988; the groups' request covers just the four-wheel adult models.
The commission estimates that between 1993 and 2001, the number of injuries caused by ATVs more than doubled to 111,700. Also, between 1982 and 2001, 1,714 children under 16 were killed while riding ATVS, or 38 percent of the total fatalities.
Among the groups filing a petition with the commission were Consumer Federation of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Emergency Physicians.
''The best case scenario is that the CPSC would pass a rule that would ban the sale of the adult size ATVs that were intended to be bought for use by children under age 16,'' said Rachel Weintraub, assistant general counsel to the CFA.
Messages left Thursday with several manufacturers of ATVs were not immediately returned.
Rules for operating the vehicles vary by state. Some have no restrictions, while others require licenses for owners and operators and bar children under 16 from riding them.
In Alaska, regulations were loosened this year. The Legislature removed from the books an obscure state law requiring operators of ATVs, snowmachines and watercraft to have drivers' licenses.
The law had made it illegal for anyone in Alaska under 16 to operate an ATV or snowmachine alone off private property. But the change by the Legislature essentially made it legal for children to ride.
The federal government and the industry signed a court-approved agreement in 1988 banning the manufacture of three-wheel ATVs. The agreement required ATV distributors to use their ''best efforts'' to assure that dealers do not sell adult-size ATVs to children under 16.
The advocacy groups said rising death and injury rates indicate the voluntary guidelines are not working.
''They are falling short,'' said Weintraub. ''Children are being killed and injured by adult ATVs. The four-wheelers are proving to be almost as dangerous as the three-wheelers.''
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