CPSIA & dirtbikes: temporary stay, no permanent relief

by Walter Olson on April 17, 2009

It’s going to take an act of Congress to bring dirtbikes, kid-size ATVs and similar motorized vehicles back into the legal sunlight. In the mean time, though, the CPSC has consented to let them venture back out into a half-legal and temporary twilight. That’s the upshot of the commission’s new pair of decisions, in which it’s 1) granting a temporary stay of enforcement on the vehicles, just as in February it granted such a temporary stay with respect to some of CPSIA’s most impractical testing obligations for manufacturers, while 2) refusing to accord the recreational vehicles an actual exemption from the law. Because of the latter refusal, sale and service of the vehicles will continue to be in violation of the law’s terms, and dealers and families will have to hope that the 50 state attorneys general agree to follow the federal agency’s lead in forbearing from enforcing the law for the time being. [Motorcycle Industry Council; StopTheBanNow.com; documents at "What's New" section of agency site]
Ride in the shadows
Why this unsatisfactory half-relief, in the face of a continuing uproar against the ban? Acting chair Nancy Nord has said she believes a permanent exemption to be inconsistent with CPSIA’s terms, which forbid such exemptions unless manufacturers can proffer a scientific demonstration that leaving a class of products on the market will not result in “any” lead absorption or other public health risk. Her co-commissioner Thomas Moore, while as usual distancing himself from Nord and from critics of the law, reached the same conclusion, agreeing that the ban was risking safety problems by causing kids to get on bikes too large for them. [Washington Post] According to Rick Woldenberg, the industry submitted evidence that the lead exposure a child would experience from riding an ATV for between two and seven weeks would approximate the amount of naturally occurring lead in one (1) Coffee Nip candy (a perfectly legal confection). But “so infinitesimal as not to worry about” is not the same thing as “not any”, and no such legal distinction was recognized by the drafters of CPSIA, for whom the maxim “the dose makes the poison” would appear as mysterious as if written in, well, some sixteenth-century German book.

More on the political maneuvering and protests over the industry’s pleas for relief: KneeSlider, CycleTrader, ShopFloor (and more there). On protests, see RacerX Online, CALA (on Malcolm Smith protest). Missouri legislator Tom Self made a 10-day tour to Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky on behalf of lifting the ban [Covenant Zone]. No word on whether an April 23 protest rally set for Denver will go forward as scheduled.
Crossed one motocrosser too many
Congress, of course, must act. Apropos of which, Covenant Zone has some further thoughts with which to close:

A sign of immaturity in children is when they fail to see the consequences of their actions; without a belief in the value of seeing the big picture, they would constantly snack on chocolate bars and coca-cola instead of fruits, vegetables and juice, they would stay up “past their bedtime” at the expense of a good night’s sleep and being refreshed for the next day, they would simply jump on a motorbike and ride instead of summoning the discipline to first learn about safety and maintenance, as well as the honesty required in understanding how to ride within one’s limits.

Sometimes I get the impression that the average kid who spends time in the great outdoors has more maturity, common sense and appreciation for the broad horizon of life’s Big Picture than does the average members of Congress, who don’t even read the bills they sign into law.

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CPSIA chronicles, May 15
05.15.09 at 4:43 pm

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1 cmmjaime 04.17.09 at 10:07 pm

But again, the sad part of Nord’s statement is: “I hope that the state attorneys general will follow our lead in this matter.” Considering the actions of some AGs already, the fact that they don’t have to follow the CPSC’s lead is disturbing to say the least.

2 Wacky Hermit 04.17.09 at 10:14 pm

I wonder what’s going to happen when a year has passed and still nobody’s invented the magical lead-free motorbike, or the XRF goggles for thrift store owners to see which clothes have lead in their buttons without testing them. Are we going to have a permanently temporary stay renewed every year while we wait for someone to discover the unicorn-fart-powered battery that will make lead-acid batteries obsolete?

3 Richard Nieporent 04.17.09 at 10:56 pm

This is what happens when we ignore science in decision-making. If lead were as dangerous as the CPSIA law makes it out to be, then why wasn’t lead banned twenty years ago? The negative health effects of high levels of lead were known back then. What we have is an overreaction by Congress to the well-publicized instances where a high lead content was found in a number of Chinese products for children. Rather than address the actual problem, Congress in its infinite wisdom decided to set unrealistic limits to the amount of lead that would be allowed any product that could be used by children. And to compound their idiocy they used an age limit of12 years. While a two year old may put objects in his mouth, who ever head of a 12 year old child doing it?

4 William Nuesslein 04.18.09 at 12:11 pm

Mr. Nieporent,

Lead in gasoline was phased out starting in 1970 and lead was banned in paints for new housing in 1978. The several sites I looked at in finding the dates, there was invariably reference to the hazard of lead and its effect on IQ. The exposure to lead was greatly reduced it was removed from gasoline and paint a generation ago. Are children doing better in school? The effect of lead was based on a paper correlating lead in teeth to lower IQ. To me, the propensity to chew on windowsills might be related to IQ, so the lower IQ cases more lead in teeth.

The Chinese toy hysteria was based on some lead above some limit in two cans of paint, whose contents were spread over a half million toys. Paint binds tightly to plastic, so the actual ingestion of any paint is negligibly small. And the lead from all the paint on any toy is minuscule in the first place. Our media played the lead scare the same way they played the threat from Saddam Hussein. Actually much worse.

And worse of all, the excessive lead regulations precludes the painting of the Pulaski Skyway!

5 April E. Coggins 04.18.09 at 12:36 pm

I am a little bit chagrined that you have included the Thor logo in your post. As a motorcycle dealer that carries the Thor brand and currently has all childrens products made by Thor locked up in storage, I have found Thor and the company that owns and distributes their product as particularly unhelpful and almost disinterested in this ordeal. They have given their dealers zero support and guidance.

6 Richard Nieporent 04.18.09 at 1:40 pm

William, I don’t disagree with you. I was simply trying to point out that if Congress really believed that lead was harmful, they should have done something about it a long time ago. They only passed the CPSIA because of all of the negative publicity. After all they didn’t want the public to think that they were not concerned about the poor children!

As a matter of fact, I grew up in the bad old days before lead in paint was banned and lead was still being used as an additive in gasoline and somehow I not only managed to survive, but after losing all those IQ points I was still able to get a Ph.D. in physics. It is too bad they didn’t ban lead in paint earlier. I could have won the Noble Prize in Physics. :)

To me, the propensity to chew on windowsills might be related to IQ, so the lower IQ cases more lead in teeth.

Apropos to you comment, the apartment building in which I grew up in the Bronx did not have window guards to prevent children from falling out. Years later when the neighborhood demographics changed from Jewish to Hispanic, suddenly there was a need to prevent children from falling out of windows and the window guards were added to all of the apartments.

7 Greg 04.18.09 at 3:50 pm

I agree with that quotation from Covenant Zone, which just further strengthens my conviction that today’s political climate, in which everyone is shouting that capitalism has failed and that henceforth Congress and the President must be the ones to run the economy, is utterly insane.

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