Selling all-terrain vehicles is his job, but John Myers has walked away from people sorely interested in the four-wheeled machines. As sales manager at Dohm Cycles in Charleston, Myers knows the first question for prospective ATV owners. "I ask them what it's intended for," Myers said last month during a lull in the holiday shopping season. Part of his job is to fit people with the right ATV, whether it's for hunting, working or play. But his main concern is who is going to ride.
"If they're looking at a full-size machine, then say it's for an underage kid, I just walk away," Myers said. "Sometimes you lose a sale. You don't want to let anybody leave without buying something." But, Myers said, it's not going to come at the expense of a young life.
Like all other ATV dealers, Dohm Cycles has signed a consent order to not sell full-size ATVs to parents who might let their children ride them. Manufacturers could pull a dealer's license if a salesman sells to someone who made their plans clear that they would turn the machine over to a child, Myers said. Secret shoppers frequently visit ATV dealers statewide to keep the dealers honest. With lawmakers on their way back to work at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Myers again is anticipating debates on safety rules for the machines, which make up 75 percent to 80 percent of his sales.
Also on the horizon is criticism of the machines, and people who want to outlaw them. "I'm not talking about kids," Myers said. "I'm talking about the old farmer ... taking his ATV away is like taking his arm." Oversized ATVs for undersized riders is a problem that needs to be addressed, Myers said. "No matter how big a kid is, they're still a kid." In West Virginia, it's not illegal for a parent to put their child atop a 500-pound machine and send them on their way. The argument over whether it's wise to do so is a different story. Safety advocates like Leff Moore, who has pushed annually for statewide regulation of ATVs as a representative of ATV manufacturers, wholesalers and dealers in the state, thinks parents shouldn't have the chance to put their kids in danger.
He argues that there should be consequences if a child is killed on a machine. "I don't know of a single case in West Virginia where a prosecutor prosecuted an adult for giving unlimited access to an ATV," Moore said. "We have to ask ourselves why." Before a sale is complete at Dohm Cycles, buyers are given an ATV safety-course application. "We can't make them go," Myers said. "As an industry standard, we promote everything like the manufacturers do." Most manufacturers offer cash or savings bonds to customers who attend training courses. Honda, for instance, offers $100, while Yamaha offers $75 cash or a savings bond. Kawasaki gives a $100 savings bond to buyers who complete the training course. "Nobody gets killed on them when they're doing what they are supposed to be doing on them," Myers said. Moore and other safety supporters tend to agree with that. "In the long run, safety sells more machines," Moore said. "Death and injury does not." Myers said some type of safety law should be approved, but not at the expense of letting safe riders ride. ATVs are such a popular sell in West Virginia that manufacturers from Asia frequently use the Mountain State as a testing and proving ground for their new equipment. Myers said a team recently visited his showroom. "If they have a design change, West Virginia is the first place they come," Myers said. The reason? In the state that's second nationally in sales and No. 1 based on its population, West Virginia is the hot market for four-wheelers, Myers said. "It's like a television — most West Virginians have one or two around the house," Myers said. To contact staff writer Charles Shumaker, use e-mail or call 348-1240.