With an influx of cheap ATVs from China, the four-wheeled off-road vehicles are becoming more popular in Hartford. Are they safe?
By Adam Bulger, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
August 09, 2007
On a recent Sunday evening, like most summer weekends, there was a big party at Colt Park in Hartford's South End. The roads surrounding Colt Park were jammed with cars, motorcycles and scooters. Among the street-ready vehicles, four young men zipped down the street on four-wheel All Terrain Vehicles, or ATVs.
I wasn't able to talk to them. The ATVs generally have a top speed of about 60 mph, which unfortunately far outpaces the top speed of a reporter on foot. If I could have spoken with them, I would have mentioned they were displaying two of the four "basic hazard patterns" a representative from the US Consumer Products Safety Commission warned me about: riding without a helmet; riding on pavement; riding with a passenger, and having children under the age of 16 operate an ATV.
"There is an upward trend of ATV deaths and serious injuries across the country. We're seeing, on average, 750 deaths and about 136,000 injuries a year," the safety commission's Scott Wolfson said. "What separates ATVs from other products we see is the severity of the injuries. These are not just scrapes and bruises. We are seeing cases of head trauma, spinal injuries and broken bones that require rehabilitation."
Wolfson said ATVs are designed for all terrains, except, evidently, paved ones.
"The tire pressure and the suspension system is built for handling an off-road surface... You can't make proper and safe turns on a paved surface," Wolfson said.
Mike Mount, spokesman for the motor vehicle industry group the ATV Safety Institute, said that ATVs aren't designed for interaction with traffic.
"Any time there's other vehicular traffic in the mix, other drivers of cars and trucks are not going to be looking for ATVs on the road. It's not a good combination," Mount said.
Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection regulates the use of ATVs in the state; they're not allowed in public parks and require written permission for use on private lands.
"ATVs can tear up landscape which can have a negative impact on plant life and animal species," DEP spokesman Dennis Schain said.
Hartford police didn't reply to repeated requests for comment about city use of ATVs, but problematic ATV use in suburbs is evidently a concern.
"We've had problems with ATVs periodically. The problems are trespassing, primarily," Farmington Police Lieutenant William Tyler said.
Even when ridden properly, many of the ATVs ridden in America may still carry risks. Since the mid-90s, a growing number of ATVs have been imported into America from China. Typically costing about half the price of ATVs manufactured by brands like Honda or Yamaha, Chinese ATVs are readily available over the Internet. The major brands of ATVs have made long-standing agreements with the Consumer Products Safety Commission and to voluntarily follow a set of safety standards, including mandatory safety training for ATV owners. The Chinese models don't follow those guidelines.
Congress is considering legislation that would make the voluntary standards that major ATV manufacturers follow mandatory, a development Mount said his group supports.
"To see products coming in that are right off the bat unsafe jeopardizes the whole industry," Mount said.