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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Oregonian examines ATV's

The Oregonian begins a series that examines ATV's and finds them well, unsafe, and not simply because of "rider error:"
But failure to comply with warnings doesn't always explain rollovers, The Oregonian found.

Working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's crash data, the newspaper examined 2,732 fatal accidents involving four-wheel ATVs since 2000 and separated the cases into two groups: the large group of riders who ignored at least one safety warning, and the much smaller group of riders who didn't.

The newspaper then looked to see how often overturns were the primary event in the crash.

The unexpected result: Riders who followed the warnings overturned in about two out of five cases, a rate comparable to the frequency of rollovers in the group that ignored one or more warnings.

The comparison doesn't suggest that riders should ignore safety warnings. The analysis also showed, for example, that overturns are more likely in crashes where an adult-sized ATV is driven by a child under 16.

A lawyer for the industry's trade group, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, called The Oregonian's analysis "fatally flawed," saying the industry's research over the years shows the benefits of following warnings.

The persistence of rollovers among riders who followed the basic precautions shows why engineers and safety advocates have long pointed to another factor: ATV design.

ATVs have a narrow track width and high ground clearance, necessary qualities that allow them to travel on rough territory and narrow trails. The same qualities make them far less stable than cars or SUVs.
Naturally, some folks won't appreciate what The Oregonian is doing by examining injuries and fatalities in a methodical fashion. The paper even hired an engineer.

The very first post under the article mentioned "super liberal moms," Subarus and frumpy clothing in one breathless outburst, so you can kind of see where this is headed. Accusations of nanny-statism and such will surely follow. And frankly, if an adult wishes or needs to ride an ATV, I don't really have problem with it. But a companion story about the death of a young girl involved in an ATV accident is truly heartbreaking.

Thoughtful ATV owners might at least wonder if the design of their machines could be improved. It's not a "liberal" verus "conservative" question, it's a technological question, just as changing the design of steering wheels back in the 1960's was a technological question. For a few pennies per unit, the number of people being impaled was cut drastically. And we are definitely anti-impalement here.

If improvements turn out to be possible, for example by slightly widening the wheel base of ATV's in order to reduce rollovers, it could be a positive development.

Obviously, I'm not an engineer, but since it appears The Oregonian has invested a substantial amount of resources into these stories, and it's clear that in certain quarters the cry will arise that it's some kind of liberal plot by dirty hippies in their furin cars, it's worth considering whether changes need to be made in ATV's.

The irony, of course, is that ATV riders would stand to benefit, but some of them won't see that simple fact through their outrage.

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