By Neil Pascale
There are some potentially positive signs emerging in a costly and confusing issue that dragged on throughout 2009 and into this year: the sale of youth ATVs and off-highway motorcycles.
The chairman of the Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC) has signaled an interest in revising a law that led to the current state of unease regarding the sale of those youth-designed vehicles.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) limited the amount of lead allowed in products meant for children 12 years old and younger. While originally aimed at toys originating in China, the law wound up also affecting youth-designed powersports vehicles because certain parts, including batteries and valve stems, may contain lead.
While the federal government decided last May not to enforce the law on powersports vehicle sales for a limited period of time, considerable unease remains about the retail sales of these products and the availability of such products to the public.
In a sign that a breakthrough may be coming on this issue, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum in a letter to U.S. Rep. George Radanovich
(R-Calif.) outlined an interest in providing an exception that could benefit the industry. Radanovich, the ranking member of the House’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, addressed a number of questions to the CPSC on the “conflicting standards” of the CPSIA. One of those questions delved into what the CPSC planned to do if child-sized ATVs do not meet the lead law limits when the current exemption expires. Additionally he asked if the CPSC needs a “legislative fix” to address this issue.
Tenenbaum answered, “It would be helpful to have a narrow exception” to the law in cases where lead is “required for a functional purpose, contact with the lead is infrequent and the elimination of such component part is impracticable or impossible based on available scientific and technical information.”
That response, issued in a Nov. 29 letter, has resulted in a bit of optimism by members of the industry who have followed the controversial issue, which last spring drew hundreds of supporters to Washington, D.C. in an attempt to draw Congressional support for an amendment to the law.
Motorcycle Industry Council’s Paul Vitrano is one such member of the industry that has worked on the issue throughout 2009 and sees Tenenbaum’s recent statement as a positive step.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.
But Vitrano, general counsel for the MIC, also points out the current reality — there is no pending bill with widespread support that would bring about an end to the issue.
However, the CPSC is required to approach Congress with details on ways to improve the CPSIA by Jan. 15. Vitrano says it’s possible that a new bill could be created after the CPSC presents its findings to Congress.
“The good news is there’s already been a
suggestion for an exclusion amendment that would help us,” Vitrano said. “There also has been a recognition by (Congressional) committees that ours is an issue that should be addressed. The question is how soon after Jan. 15, if at all, will a bill be advanced that would deal with our issues.
“Ideally something would happen in January and we would then have a great opportunity as we go into the Dealer Expo to really push to get the grassroots support. But that’s out of our control.”
For now, OEMs are approaching the issue of selling youth-designed ATVs in different ways, Vitrano says. Some have simply stopped selling them, others have remarketed their existing product or provided labeling that indicates their product is not designed for children 12-and-younger.
“As you would expect with independent businesses, they’re assessing their situation individually and reacting to it,” Vitrano said of OEMs’ decisions regarding the sale of youth-designed ATVs. “One of the consequences is there is real confusion among the dealers and enthusiasts of what’s available and what’s not available.”
Part of the risk associated with youth-designed ATVs or motorcycles is they are still, under the law, deemed illegal to sell. The federal government’s stay of enforcement of the lead content provisions remains in effect until May 2, 2011, but there is the chance that businesses could be held liable by states or private parties. However, CPSC Chairman Tenenbaum noted in the letter to Rep. Radanovich that the CPSC has met with several assistant and deputy state attorneys general to discuss “a common approach on these issues.”
Should that be comfort to the industry and potentially sway an OEM or dealer to begin selling youth-designed ATVs or bikes if they’re not doing so today? Vitrano doesn’t think so.
“Some attorneys general are unwilling or unable to opine on issues in a hypothetical situation, which is what this is,” he said of the CPSC’s discussions with state attorneys general offices. “Others may be more committal. Others may say there are going to use their own independent judgment.
“It’s a nice gesture for the CPSC or Congressional offices to encourage state attorneys general to honor the stay, but it’s really nothing that could be binding and that OEMS or dealers could rely on in most cases.”
Copyright 2010 Powersports Business