March 20, 2009 - Motorbike Sale to Defy Lead Law
Angry with a nationwide ban on sales of youth motorcycles and ATVs over lead concerns, one of the biggest dealers in Southern California plans to sell the child-size vehicles today despite potential criminal penalties.
Malcolm Smith, a Riverside, Calif., dealer and major figure in off-road motorcycling for four decades, is challenging federal officials to come and get him.
Smith, 68, says he plans to sell several of the youth-targeted vehicles to people who are already prepared to pay for them. He says he has told the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ban passed by Congress last year.
"I've been paying attention to all the rules and regulations, giving them some time to do something about it," Smith says. "They have no idea what this is doing to small businesses."
Since taking effect Feb. 10, the law passed has made it illegal to sell off-road vehicles and accessories -- including used vehicles and replacement parts -- aimed at children 12 and younger because of small amounts of lead in alloys used in parts of the vehicles. Smith says he is prohibited even from selling helmets and other safety gear aimed at youth.
Motorcycle industry leaders say the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 is costing $1 billion in retail sales and related economic impact. Like many other powersports dealers, Smith says, he is stuck with 45 to 50 youth vehicles that he cannot sell under the new law.
General counsel for the Motorcycle Industry Council, the trade association of manufacturers, says his group last week presented evidence last week to the commission supporting an exclusion for off-road vehicles. He says toxicology evidence "demonstrates the lead in metal parts on vehicles present no risk to kids' safety because they do not result in measurable increases in blood lead levels."
Even so, he says, the commission had embraced "a very narrow and strict" interpretation of the new law, suggesting the mere presence of lead in parts was a violation of the standard for children.
"CPSC appears unwilling to grant us relief," he said.
Joseph Martyak, chief of staff to the acting chairman of the commission, says that the commission expects to make a ruling on whether to grant an exclusion "in the next week or two."
He says the panel has been inundated with letters, calls and e-mails protesting the ban -- as many as 5,000 in one day.
Off-roading enthusiasts including Smith have ridiculed the ban, saying it defies logic because no rider or child is going to ingest motorcycle parts whether they contain lead or not.
"I've never yet seen one child chewing on a motorcycle," he says.
Smith says his buyers will be several prominent motorcycle industry figures, including a well-known helmet designer and a fellow racer who with Smith won the Baja 1000 off-road championship four times. Smith is a champion racer who starred with Steve McQueen in the 1970s documentary On Any Sunday, which glamorized the sport.
Although not endorsing the action, the Motorcycle Industry Council says the manufacturers group is aware of Smith's plans.
"He, like many of us in the industry, is frustrated and concerned about the situation," the Council's attorney said.