Are ATVs Putting Kids' Safety at Risk?

At 14 years old, Travis Emerson is already onto his second all terrain vehicle. He loved riding with his dad.

"I just like to go fast on 'em," he said.

James Michael Anderson was also 14 when he tried riding one of the popular sports vehicles. He was vacationing with a friend whose parents made the mistake of allowing a boy who had never operated anything but a bicycle take the controls of a 700-pound, adult ATV. The vehicle hit a patch of uneven ground and careened into a tree.

"He was a great kid," said James' father, Tom Anderson of Brockton, Mass. "Friends with everybody. He had hundreds of friends from all walks of life."

The all-star pitcher, who also played the tenor saxophone, died on a backwoods New Hampshire trail.

"He had lots of dreams," said his mother, Carolyn Anderson. "You know, it was such an unfulfilled life."

James was not alone. An estimated 740 people died in ATV accidents in 2003.

More than 136,000 went to the hospital with ATV-related injuries last year. More than a third of them were 16 or younger. Many were children who lacked proper training or who weren't wearing protective gear or helmets. Most common were children riding ATVs made for adults.

"We're looking at rulemaking," said Scott Wolfson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "We want to see if there are new rules out there that we can institute to help make the ATV itself safer for all consumers."

One of the rules would ban the sale of adult ATVs for children under 16. The ATV industry says that is unnecessary.

"Retailers are already prohibited from selling adult-size ATVs for use by kids by agreements they have with their manufacturers," said Mike Mount of the ATV Safety Institute.

In 2002, "Good Morning America" went undercover to ATV dealers and found that nine out of 10 contacted were willing to sell adult-sized ATVs to producers who said the primary rider would be 14, 13 or even 12.

The ATV industry claims it's gotten better at policing itself since then -- sending secret shoppers to ATV retailers at random, yanking franchises from dealers who cheat.

Steve Travers, the manger of Camrod Motorsport in Manhattan, errs on the side of caution.

"A 12-year-old on a bigger unit like that is like putting an 8-year-old behind the wheel of a sports car," he said. "These vehicles will do up to 60 miles an hour."

The ATV industry also says that everyone who buys a four-wheeler is offered a free training course like the one attended by Travis Emerson and his father in Waldorf, Md.

"I think ATVs are safe, I think everything is safe as long as you're in control," said Travis's father, Rick Emerson.

But Carolyn and Tom Anderson know firsthand how tempting a quick spin can seem for youngsters who have no training. After the death of their son, they joined other parents of ATV accident victims to lobby for stricter federal regulations.

"I thought if something had been done about this years ago, my child most likely would still be with me," Carolyn Anderson said.

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