Makers of ATVs agree to halt sales

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The makers of all-terrain vehicles agreed in court yesterday to halt sales of their three-wheel models and to provide safety training for owners of other models that pose an ``imminent and unreasonable'' threat of injury or death, the Justice Department announced. But the court-enforced arrangement fell far short of demands from consumer groups and from Congress that the industry be forced to buy back ATVs from buyers, especially those models popular with children.

Under terms of a consent decree entered in US District Court, the manufacturers - Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha - will no longer market three-wheeled ATVs, considered the most dangerous variety, and will repurchase tens of thousands of those models from dealer inventories. The manufacturers had already dropped the three-wheel versions from their 1988 lines, in favor of the more popular four-wheel design.

The industry also agreed to provide free, ``hands on'' safety training for people who buy ATVs in the future, as well as all purchasers within the past year. They also will provide stiff warning labels and notices about the hazards associated with the vehicles, some of which attain speeds of 50 mph or more.

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More than 900 people, many of them children, have been killed riding the so-called ATVs over the past five years, and nearly 7,000 injuries have been reported monthly. More than 2 million of the vehicles are reported in use in this country. The off-road vehicles are characterized by their large, balloon-like tires, large saddle seats, and handlebar steering.

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