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Advocates urge banning ATVs from roads, citing crash hazards

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Advocates urge banning ATVs from roads, citing crash hazards

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A leading consumer group is warning that the increasing use of all-terrain vehicles on the nation’s roads poses a “growing public health crisis” and is calling for immediate action by U.S., state and local officials.

“ATVs are not designed to be on roads,” said Rachel Weintraub, the Consumer Federation of America’s legislative director and the co-author of a new report on the issue. “Any weakening of that message puts consumers at risk.”

The report follows a FairWarning investigation detailing a push in states and localities across the country to allow ATVs to operate on more public roads.

ATV crashes kill more than 700 people and injure 100,000 others every year, with nearly two-thirds of the fatal accidents occurring on public or private roads, according to the latest federal figures. That happens even though all ATVs sold in the U.S. carry warning labels stating that the vehicles, which are marketed for off-road use, are not to be operated on roadways. With knobby, low-pressure tires and high centers of gravity, the vehicles are prone to tip over or go out of control on pavement. They also lack many safety features that are standard for cars and trucks.

Despite these warnings, ATV riders’ clubs across the country are pushing state and local laws that would open more roads to the vehicles. The groups contend that opening roads will draw tourists and help local residents save gas money. They argue the risks can be managed by using lights, helmets and following speed limits –- directly contradicting manufacturers and safety advocates who say it’s never safe to ride ATVs on roads.

Some 35 states allow ATVs to travel on roadways under certain conditions, according to the consumer group’s new report. Twenty-two states have passed laws allowing or expanding ATV access to roads since 2004, with four states doing so in 2013 alone. Meanwhile, at least 18 states or local jurisdictions are currently considering opening more roads to ATVs, according to the federation, a Washington D.C. based coalition of more than 300 consumer groups.

Many states delegate the authority to open roads to ATVs to local authorities such as county commissions or town councils. But such decisions, critics say, can confuse consumers and undermine safety messages. And safety advocates often don’t find out about such actions until they already have been approved, Weintraub said.

ATV manufacturers say they make efforts to promote safety by educating  consumers and lawmakers about the issue, but some safety advocates question whether they are doing enough.

The federation made a series of recommendations for lawmakers and regulators. On the federal level, it called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to expand an existing roadway safety grant program to address ATV issues. The federation also urged NHTSA to share more information and expertise with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency charged with regulating the design of ATVs. NHTSA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

States should pass “bright-line laws” that prohibit ATV use on all roadways and not leave the decision up to local authorities, the federation’s report said. And all sectors of the ATV industry should speak in a “unified voice” to oppose laws opening roads to ATVs.

“ATVs on roads are a serious public health risk,” Weintraub said. “Action must be taken now to protect consumers from this grave hazard.”

FairWarning is a nonprofit news organization based in Southern California that focuses on public health, consumer, labor and environmental issues.

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