By Jeff Cobb
Motorcycle Safety News
It remains open to speculation if or when a ban on motorcycles and all terrain vehicles (ATVs) marketed for kids age 12 and under will be lifted in time for dealers across America to recoup losses.
Representing an estimated $1 billion in total potential sales, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), the small bikes and ATVs and by extension, their related parts and accessories, were included last month by a new law intended to protect children from lead poisoning.
The legislation, titled the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), was signed Aug. 14, 2008, and went into effect Feb. 10, this year. It is being enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and mandates an initial lead content in children’s products of no more than 600 parts per million, with more stringent limits to be phased in August 2009 and August 2011.
Lead is a powerful toxin affecting the brain and development, and can be lethal if ingested in sufficient quantities.
Because powersports vehicle of necessity have some lead content, dealers, distributors and manufacturers are feeling crunched in times already marked by economic uncertainty. Estimates of the impact on individual dealer’s sales range from 10-30 percent.
And aside from “unintended consequences” hurting sales, the law may provoke some to put their kids on less safe larger bikes and ATVs in order to let them ride.
According to Paul Vitrano, general counsel for the MIC and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), this is an ironic byproduct from an attempt to protect kids.
“With these ATVs unavailable to families, we may see more kids on adult ATVs. We know this leads to crashes.” Vitrano said at a press conference Wednesday held by Missouri State Rep. Tom Self, R -116th, “The CPSC, the ATV industry, consumer groups, safety advocates and parents all agree: It’s critical to keep riders under the age of 16 off of large ATVs designed for adults.”
Since late last year, the MIC, the SVIA, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), and others, have been aggressively doing all they can to seek an exception at both grassroots and government levels.
The CPSC has said, while it will respond as swiftly as possible, there is no guaranty an exception will be granted, and this has many very upset, not least of which is Rep. Self.
He has sponsored a writing campaign, and said over 72,000 protest letters have been sent.
“We’ve got dealers in the district that obviously are reeling from this,” Self said of his legislative district comprised of one county, plus parts of two others.
Self, who has two boys who ride, said his constituency includes now struggling dealers, and said CPSC could do more if it wanted to.
One local dealer, Self said, is sitting on $122,000 in inventory, which for that small business represents a lot of money tied up, and potentially lost.
As is the case nationwide, new and used inventory aimed at the 12 and under market cannot be sold, even through eBay or other channels, he said. Nor can parts or accessories be sold for them, and dealers cannot even service them.
What is more, it is possible that inventory in this category may never again be allowed to be legally sold, and could represent a 100 percent loss if the ban is not lifted.
But Self is determined this does not happen.
The legislation was poorly crafted, he said, and had begun as an attempt to regulate infant and toddler toys that could be mouthed.
But because powersports machines have lead battery terminals, and small amounts of lead alloyed in steel frames, aluminum brake levers, valve stems, and copper and brass parts, they were swept up, and now an entire market segment – and family-friendly sport – is shut down.
The outcry has also been especially loud because what was meant to benefit kids could wind up doing more harm than good by disrupting an activity many families have until now freely enjoyed.
But according to Scott Wolfson, deputy public affairs director for the CPSC, the agency is faced with implementing the “very important child safety law,” but there are provisions for exclusions.
On Jan. 28, the MIC sent a 50-page request for “emergency relief” in the form of a “temporary final ruling.” This document included the opinion of a toxicology expert, and other scientific data to show that kids’ powersports had been unfairly included, and should be excluded.
CPSC on Feb. 9, one day before the law took effect, answered with a barely two-page response that the industry’s plea could not be granted because CPSC had not authority to do so.
But Wolfson said CPSC is not unsympathetic.
Of the MIC petition and petitions from others, he said, “We put them in our public comment process because we are currently working on exemptions.”
And, “CPSC is working very hard to look at every category,” he said, not only of powersports, but also books, clothing, and other consumer products.
But the language of the bill, Wolfson said, requires CPSC to take time to weigh the likelihood of kids’ getting lead in their bloodstream.
Many in the industry and press have poked fun at the prospect that a child might suckle a valve stem containing lead, or a brake lever, or battery terminal.
But Wolfson said CPSC is not unreasonable, and gets it.
“We are an agency that is very realistic and realize that children are not chewing on these components on their bikes,” he said. But the question remains whether kids can touch lead-containing parts, then put their hands in their mouths and get lead in their bloodstream anyway.
And if so, “what does the law say?” Wolfson said.
“CPSC is not aiming to make unreasonable decisions,” he said.
But CPSC is also making no promises.
“I do not want to mislead anybody to say there is or is not an exemption on the way,” Wolfson said, “It’s that we have a process that has to be followed.”
But Wolfson’s tone was careful, empathetic, and he said those at CPSC “respect greatly” people affected.
Wolfson spoke knowing many eyes were on CPSC.
The MIC, SVIA, and AMA estimate their efforts and those of others have led to over 100,000 letters being sent from around the country in just over a month.
“We realize the impact this is having on dealers and riders,” Wolfson said. “Their voices have been heard and now CPSC needs to complete its work.”
So, when will they know?
“We are working on a timeframe of weeks and not months,” Wolfson said, which for the federal government is “expedited.”
But Rep. Self was having none of it.
“Here’s a ‘weeks not months response’ from me,” he said. “If you understand anything about the outdoor powersports industry … you know March, April and May are the best months for some of these units.”
Self said the standard for whether kids can contaminate themselves ought to be whether in normal use – with gloves and boots and full gear on – will they be touching lead containing parts?
If questions of whether a kid helps his parent with maintenance arise, he said they might as well make it illegal for kids to touch any metal anywhere that might contain lead.
As others have, Self raised the concern that parents may put kids on bigger, more powerful bikes or ATVs.
Wolfson had addressed this too, however, and said CPSC did not want this to happen, and realized the dilemma.
But the bill has produced much uncertainty.
A large multi-brand dealer in Hatfield, Pa., Montgomeryville Cycle Center confirmed that it had been affected.
“Things that are related to these units right now we are considering as a complete stop sale at this point,” said General Sales Manager Greg Signorelli, adding they cannot even show brochures, or information on their Web site.
Fortunately, he said, things could be worse for his dealership. Only 10 percent of its revenues come from the under 12 segment, and it sold most on-hand inventory before Christmas.
The suburban dealer is in better shape than some rural dealers closer to trail access and reliant on a bigger off-road market, Signorelli said.
He said he also has gotten some relief from the manufacturers.
Signorelli read correspondence from Suzuki and Yamaha he’d just received telling which models not covered by the ban he could sell.
The manufacturers have been waiving the floor planning charges too, he said, which are finance charges normally paid on unsold inventory.
But overall, the lead ban is being seen as an economic storm to be weathered, and people at all levels are fighting it with continued pressure on the government.
According to Duane Taylor, director, federal affairs for the MIC, the law has “the potential to put a lot of people out of business.”
CPSC’s Wolfson had suggested the industry might have prepared earlier. He said since August big box retailers have been pulling product and having it lab tested and certified.
But Taylor said they were not caught by surprise.
“We filed our petition as soon as was practicable,” he said.
Taylor also pointed out the law went into affect Feb. 10, but the comments period for those seeking exclusions ended Feb. 17, and rule making for adopting exclusions could take until the summer. This left the industry in an almost impossible situation to seek timely exclusions, although it did try unsuccessfully for an exception.
Rep. Self decried the inequity of the situation, saying government policies are killing thousands of jobs, and hurting small businesses, while in other sectors, people are benefiting greatly by stimulus packages.
The most recent stimulus package, according to Self, when the number of jobs estimated to be created was divided into money allocated, paved the way for average annual paychecks of $250,000.
“If the federal government would quit eliminating jobs through things like this,” Self said of the lead ban, “They would not have to create as many $250,000 per job jobs.”
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