Peter C. Hovde letter: Don't be fooled by ATV industry's 'safety' pitch
All terrain vehicles got some good press the other day. An Associated Press wire story carried recently by The Forum described a 19-year-old taking an ATV safety course. An experienced rider, Keith Grundhauser, was persuaded to take the course by...
All terrain vehicles got some good press the other day.
An Associated Press wire story carried recently by The Forum described a 19-year-old taking an ATV safety course. An experienced rider, Keith Grundhauser, was persuaded to take the course by a $100 check from the manufacturer of his new machine. Grundhauser praised the course, which teaches even veteran riders things they don't know.
"ATV safety training pushed" read the headline. The reader's impression? That the ATV manufacturers are literally putting their money where their mouth is - promoting ATV safety - at one hundred bucks a pop.
The reality behind that impression is quite different, however, and that difference is costing Minnesota dearly - in human lives cut short, in the misery of debilitating injuries - caused directly by the increasing power and size of ATVs, and by the continued resistance of the ATV industry to any effective safety regulation.
Want some reality? Talk to a conservation officer who had to watch a young man die wrapped around a birch tree when he had tried to keep up with his more experienced rider "friends." Or talk to the head of a trauma unit about the heartbreak of seeing children's lives ended or ruined by imitating the reckless driving of their "adult" role models.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission has tracked the burgeoning human tragedy of ATV use. The trends are depressingly clear. Each year the numbers of injuries and deaths from ATV operation are greater. Each year the injuries and deaths of younger riders continue to climb beyond the trend lines of older age groups.
The industry claims it "must respond to consumer demand" for more powerful machines, and that voluntary ATV education - not regulation - will do the trick. The industry maintains that stance in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.
There is probably nothing that will prevent adult males from killing or crippling themselves as they try to demonstrate their manliness astride an ATV. But there is something that can be done to prevent our children from meeting the same fate.
It's simple. Require a driver's license to operate an ATV (as we require for the operation of a far safer automobile) with special additional training (as we do for motorcycles). And adopt severe penalties for any adult who enables a child under 16 to operate an ATV.
Minnesota is used to responsible corporate citizens, ethically operated. Target, 3M, and Medtronic come quickly to mind. The ATV manufacturers need to join that league.
The ATV manufacturers cannot ethically continue as they are with the full knowledge that their increasingly heavier and more powerful ATVs will kill more and more children. Blaming parents, putting a warning label on a machine, or a $100 reward will not get them off that ethical hook.
The $100 reward for ATV training won't cut it. To even have a remote chance of being effective, that offer would have to be made by every manufacturer and extend to the owners of every ATV ever built that is still in operation. The $100 for safety per new machine is far too little, way too late.
Will acting ethically have its costs to those corporations? Acting ethically always does. But what is the cost when 39 percent of all ATV accidents in Minnesota last year involve young people between the ages of 10 to 20? What is the cost of six children under the age of 10 being killed in ATV accidents last year, fully 25 percent of all ATV deaths? Year after year, 90-plus percentage of those children killed are riding on ATVs that are too big and powerful for their small size and inexperience.
Minnesota-based Polaris and Arctic Cat have a chance to be industry leaders. They could reverse their corporate course by building safety and responsible use into their machines and into their advertising. Rather than using their considerable influence in St. Paul to quash or blunt any reasonable safety regulation, they could unequivocally support both ATV education and effective regulation. In short, they could join the ranks of ethically directed corporations.
The manufacturers will find that acting as an ethical example has its own rewards. Like being profitable, as Target, 3M, and Medtronic have demonstrated. Like building the intangible but valuable capital of being known as a good corporate citizen. Like being able to look at oneself in the mirror in the morning.
Hovde lives in Moorhead. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org