WASHINGTON -- Ten manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles, which have been blamed in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries, have settled a federal complaint against them in a consent decree that still needs court approval.
'I'm personally very pleased,' Leonard Goldstein, a Consumer Product Safety Commission lawyer said Tuesday. 'I think that the public interest will be served by this decree ... assuming the judge decides to approve it.'
But Goldstein warned that four-wheeled ATVs, successors of the now banned-from-sale three-wheelers, are still dangerous.
'They're absolutely unsafe on paved highways. They call them all-terrain vehicles, but that's a misnomer,' said Goldstein. 'They're really off-road vehicles.'
The final consent decrees, filed Monday, require the approval of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to a statement by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, which approved them on a 2-1 vote with Commissioner Anne Graham dissenting.
The decrees were negotiated between the Justice Department and representatives of the all-terrain vehicle industry in settlement of a federal complaint filed against 10 defendants, alleging that ATVs constitute an imminent hazard under the wording of the Consumer Protection Safety Act.
The 10 manufacturers affected include: Honda Motor Co. Ltd; American Honda Motor Co.; Honda Research & Development Co.; Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd.; Yamaha Motor Cotp., U.S.A.; Suzuki Motors Co. Ltd; U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp., U.S.A.; Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.; Kawasaki Motor Corp., U.S.A.; Polaris Industries Inc.
'Between January 1982 and September 1987, more than 900 deaths were reported to the CPSC, and thousands of personal injuries have resulted from the use of ATVs in the same period,' Goldstein said.
The decrees provide for 'no admission of guilt, as is standard operating procedure; no admission of liability; no fines,' unless the companies violate the terms of the decrees, he said.
But they continue an existing ban on sale of three-wheeled ATVs, allow sale of four-wheeled versions and provide for nationwide training for future purchasers of the four-wheeled models and their families.
Additionally, they provide for the implementation of an $8.5 million public education program on the vehicles' hazards and would require distribution of improved owners' manuals and adequate warnings in the sales room of the vehicles' dangers and establish a toll-free hot-line for owner inquiries.
The decrees also would set out age recommendations, to prevent young children -- the greatest risk group -- from operating ATVs, which are the wrong size for them.
If approved by the court, the final consent decree would be in effect for 10 years.
The CPSC statement said the decree's terms were designed to reduce 'the unreasonably high rate of death and injury' from use of ATVs.