A federal judge gave final approval Wednesday to a plan restricting sales of off-road all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs), which have been blamed for 880 deaths and thousands of injuries in the last six years.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell's decision, which required federal officials to toughen the terms of an agreement they had reached earlier with ATV manufacturers, apparently ends four years of legal wrangling over the safety problems posed by the small, off-road vehicles with large, low-pressure tires.
Under the terms of the plan approved by Gesell, manufacturers American Honda Motor Co., Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S. Suzuki Motor Corp. and Kawasaki Motors Corp. must stop selling three-wheeled ATVs and buy back any still in dealer inventories. Safety advocates have charged that the three-wheel models are prone to overturn, particularly when driven by children.
Safety Courses Required
The companies are permitted to continue selling four-wheeled ATVs, but they will be required to offer safety courses, place warning labels on their products and launch a major advertising campaign designed to teach ATV drivers, particularly children, how to avoid accidents.
An additional provision added to the agreement by Gesell allows the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to reopen the ATV case in 1991 if the new restrictions fail to significantly reduce ATV injuries. Under the original settlement, the government essentially would have been prevented from starting new proceedings against ATV makers.
Since 1982, ATVs have been blamed for 880 deaths and 300,000 injuries, about half of them to children younger than 16. The government began studying ATVs in 1984 and filed suit in 1987 seeking to have them removed from the market.
In December, the government and manufacturers agreed to settle the case, but consumer groups, some members of Congress and attorneys general of several states, including California, called the agreement too weak. They urged Gesell, who was presiding over the suit, to reject it.
The consumer groups demanded that the manufacturers end all ATV sales and buy back the more than 2.3 million they had sold, a recall that the companies estimated would cost more than $1 billion.
Calls for Speedy Action
Gesell rejected that argument, saying the issue should be resolved expeditiously. While the settlement does not completely solve the safety problem, "no decree designed to protect consumers has ever gone this far in meeting such a massive consumer problem," he wrote.
Amy Brown, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the decision "fully vindicates" the Reagan Administration's approach to the case. "We are very pleased," she said.
A consumer group attorney who had challenged the settlement praised Gesell's new provision for reopening the case. If in the future, "a new Administration wants to actually do something to protect consumers, its hands won't be tied," attorney Katherine Meyer said.