Lead law irks ATVers

Samantha Mills, 11, races at a recent event in the Tri-Cities, leading the way on her No. 19 motorcycle.<br><I>Photo contributed by Jeff Mills

Samantha Mills is an avid motorcyclist. She competes in local events and rides as often as she can. And she's 11 years old. She started riding when she was 8 and has upgraded bikes over time, riding bigger rigs as she grows.

Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but since February motorcycle and ATV enthusiasts - including Samantha and her father, Jeff Mills, have found it hard - if not impossible - to get parts for their kids' equipment.

In February, the Consumer Products Safety Commission began enforcing the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which limits the amount of lead in products made for kids under the age of 12. The act limits the amount of lead to no more than 600 parts per million.

"Lead over 600 parts per million includes a lot of things," Jeff Mills said.

That's just the beginning - the federal statute gets even tougher over the next two years. After Aug. 14, the lead content maximum will be lowered to 300 ppm and after Aug. 14, 2011, the maximum reduces to 100 ppm.

The act is meant to keep kids from eating lead products. What the commission didn't originally consider was all the motorcycle and ATV parts that have lead in them.

"It came out for toddlers sucking on toys with lead in it," said Mark Street, owner of Oregon Power Sports in Pendleton.

Since the law was passed, Street can't sell products such as parts for motorcycles and ATVs made to fit kids. He can't even get those things for his own son.

"It's been a real bummer for kids who come in with a motorcycle broke," Street said. "I can't get them parts now."

Complaints from ATV companies and motorcycle fans made the federal agency realize there was another danger - if a small cycle wasn't available for kids, the kids may simply ride a larger one, which is more dangerous.

Jeff Mills, who said he began riding when he was 5, rode bikes that were too big for him when he was kid.

"That was pretty dangerous," he said.

So, he was happy there were motorcycles made to fit his daughter when she got interested in riding.

The agency responded to the danger.

"The agency has serious concern about youth models not being available, which could have lead to children, even more children, riding adult size models," said CPSC spokesman, Scott Wolfson. "The risk of death and serious injury is greater with kids jumping on adult size models. ... The CPSC found a common sense solution to the new requirements."

In May it put a "stay of enforcement" on the provision as it applies to ATVs and motorcycles. For at least the next two years, parts and vehicles can be sold, traded and tested. In the meantime the industry must work on lowering the lead content in its products, Wolfson said.

 But this hasn't solved the problem.

Street said even though CPSC has backed off, other government agencies may still enforce the act. Wary of having the government come down on them, Suzuki - Street's store is a dealer - is keeping him from selling most kids' products.

In a letter to Street and other dealers, Suzuki said "... this stay of enforcement is simply inadequate ... and leaves the industry vulnerable to lawsuits and actions by federal and state agencies."

The letter said the company will not allow the sale of children's items.

Suzuki, along with the Motorcycle Industry Council, says only an act of Congress can make selling kids' items safe again.

So until that happens, it looks like Street cannot sell products for kids, and Mills cannot buy them.

Fortunately, Samantha hasn't broken her motorcycle this year. If she did, Mills said he may be forced to look for aftermarket parts even though it may not be legal.

In the meantime, since there's no law against letting kids ride motorcycles, Samantha going full throttle.

She says she likes competition. She likes getting out and racing other kids.

Samantha said she thought if kids aren't able to start riding as youngsters, there won't be as many professionals in the sport. And, she admitted, she wants to go pro.

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