Minibikes Banned!

Fight the CPSC ban on minibikes and youth ATVs!

Minibikes Banned!

Your kid licked a battery terminal lately? Sucked on a Schrader valve?

Neither has Jason Horne's son Logan, but when Mr. Horne took the family's Polaris ATV into his local dealer for servicing, he was turned away, told it was now illegal for the shop to sell or work on minibikes and small all-terrain vehicles.

For that you can thank the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, enacted last fall and put into effect February 10. The law had noble intentions—to protect children from lead content in toys following the recall of millions of Chinese-made items—and was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. It imposes a tough new lead-content limit of 600 parts per million for any product intended for children under 12.

Problem is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency charged with "protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products," to quote its own website, has chosen to apply the law to youth ATVs and motorcycles, effectively banning them.

"A ridiculous interpretation of the legislation," said Horne. "The CPSC has gone too far."

"Some ATV and motorcycle parts unavoidably contain small quantities of lead," explained Paul Vitrano, VP and general counsel of the Motorcycle Industry Council. "Lead in these components is necessary, either for safety, as in the case of facilitating the machining of tire valves, critical to assuring air retention, or for functionality, such as the lead in battery terminals, which is needed to conduct electricity."

Trace amounts of lead are also found in electrical connectors, brake and clutch levers, engine cases, carburetors and frames, none of which are likely to be ingested by children. The lead strengthens the metals and resists corrosion, said Vitrano.

Financial repercussions of the ban are staggering, especially for an industry hit hard by last autumn's economic free fall—the Christmas sales period, prime time for kids' dirtbikes and quads, was the slowest in years. Now add the new lead-content rules, which as interpreted by the CPSC block the sale of up to 100,000 units. Dealernews estimates that the value of inventory now sitting in warehouses that can no longer be sold exceeds $100 million. Factor in sales, service, parts, accessories and payroll (if employees have to be laid off) and the downside could be $1 billion in lost economic value annually for the powersports industry, predicts the MIC.

"I can't have the products on my showroom floor, I can't sell parts and accessories for them, and the only way I can service them is if they don't need parts," said Lee Fleming, owner of Champion Motorcycles in Costa Mesa, California.

Terry Dempsey, sales manager at nearby Long Beach Motorsports, told USA Today that his shop sold $120,000 in minibikes and youth ATVs last year, plus more in parts, service and accessories. "We're already down 30 percent (due to the recession), and now we just lost another 10–15 percent of our customer base," he said.

There was a chance in early March that some well-placed gumption could have put all this right. The CPSC has the power to grant exclusions. The MIC petitioned for such an exclusion in this case based on existing European Union studies and analogous exemptions for lead in components of full-sized motorized vehicles.

"Our expert toxicologist says the lead-intake risk associated with riding is significantly less than the default lead levels for food and water," said Vitrano.

Those negligible amounts—in essence, not detectable, said the expert—failed to persuade the CPSC to grant exclusion. Neither did the thousands of e-mails and letters sent in by concerned enthusiasts. Instead, the commission claimed to be conscripted by guideline language disallowing exemptions if there is "any" possibility of absorption of lead into the body of a child.

"The CPSC's narrow and literal interpretation was not helpful to our request," said Vitrano in a diplomatic understatement.

The commission's non-action throws the matter back into the legislative arena, which could be a time-intensive process given the government's many issues these days. To get the latest on the situation and to find out how best to make your voice heard on this matter, check in with the MIC's website, www.mic.org, and its "Stop the Ban" section.

Luckily, we have friends in high places. Missouri State Representative Tom Self (www.tomself.com), for instance, whose family rides and races off-road.

"The Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to take a common-sense approach to implementation of the CPSIA's lead provisions in order to avoid major disruptions to youth ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts, owners, manufacturers and the dealer network of thousands of small, independent businesses which employ tens of thousands of Americans," wrote Self in a house resolution. "While protecting children from those products that truly present a lead risk is important, there should be a waiver or exclusion for products that do not present risk to children."

That kind of pragmatic, straight thinking will take you far, Mr. Self. Maybe even all the way to national office. I'm thinking Chairman of the CPSC for starters...