Like many folks in the Mobile area, I went to the beach on Labor Day. On my way home, I saw two young boys coming the other way on a four wheeler in the grass next to the road. This road is a four lane, divided highway with a 50 MPH speed limit. The driver appeared to be no older than 12 or 13 and his passenger was considerably younger. Neither wore a helmet.
As a lawyer who represents claimants in injury cases, my first thought was all of the bad things that this scenario conjured up. As a parent whose children are grown, I wanted to turn around and drive them home. I could not get the thought of them out of my mind. When I got home, I went straight to Google.
Statistics released by CPSC show that in 2005, there were an estimated 136,700 injuries associated with ATVs treated in US hospital emergency rooms. In 2004, the latest year for which estimates are available, 767 people died in ATV-associated incidents. According to statistics released by CPSC, the risk of injury in 2005 was 171.5 injuries per 10,000 four-wheel ATVs in use. The risk of death in 2004 was 1.1 deaths per 10,000 four-wheelers in use. Focus has shifted to machine size balanced with the usage of ATVs categorized by age ranges and engine displacements—in line with the consent decrees. ATVs are mandated to bear a label from the manufacturer stating that the use of machines greater than 90 cc by riders under the age of 12 is prohibited. This is a ‘manufacturer/CPSC recommendation’ and not necessarily state law.
The numbers regarding accidents involving children were even grimmer but the industry is more concerned with profits:
According to The New York Times on September 2, 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission met in March 2005 to discuss the dangers of ATVs. Data from 2004 showed 44,000 children under 16 injured while riding ATVs, 150 of them fatally. Says the Times, "National associations of pediatricians, consumer advocates and emergency room doctors were urging the commission to ban sales of adult-size ATVs for use by children under 16 because the machines were too big and fast for young drivers to control. But when it came time to consider such a step, a staff member whose name did not appear on the meeting agenda unexpectedly weighed in." That staff member was John Gibson Mullan, "the agency’s director of compliance and a former lawyer for the A.T.V. industry" – the Times bases the claim on a recording of the meeting. Mullan reportedly said that the existing system of warnings and voluntary compliance was working. The agency’s hazard statistician, Robin Ingle, was not allowed to present a rebuttal. She told the Times in an interview, "He had hijacked the presentation. He was distorting the numbers in order to benefit industry and defeat the petition. It was almost like he still worked for them, not us." CPSC reports of ATV deaths and injuries show an increase in the raw numbers of deaths and injuries that is statistically significant. The rate of deaths and injuries, which takes into account the fact that the number of ATVs in use has risen over the last ten years, has been shown to have experienced no statistically significant change.
This is not acceptable. We need to do something. If you have a four-wheeler at the house, understand that it may be like a loaded gun around a child. Apread the word – these machines can be killers.
Cum Laude graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Pet Mackey is a civil trial litigation expert who represents plaintiffs in business and consumer tort, contracts and construction, employment disputes and insurance. He is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Certified Alabama Mediator, and an “AV” rated lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell.