A couple of years ago the motorcycle industry was caught by surprise when Congress enacted, and then deployed, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) — almost immediately wiping out a $1 billion youth motorcycle and atv industry. Over the ensuing two years the CPSIA proved to be a massive screw job for all sorts of small businesses.
On Wednesday, June 30, 2010 the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed (by voice vote) another piece of legislation that could be equally devastating to the vintage dirt bike scene — the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010, H.R. 4678. The bill now moves to the larger Ways and Means Committee or perhaps to the floor for a vote.
This act is aimed at forcing foreign manufacturers into the US tort system for liability law suits. Like most laws, that sounds great in a sound byte on the news – force all those big Chinese and Taiwanese companies to be accessible to our thousands of personal injury lawyers.
The truth is that if you’re a vintage dirt bike fan and you buy or use any part that’s made in the UK, China, Taiwan, Australia, or Europe by a small manufacturer you may well find that part is no longer available to you. Those cool CZ parts Bertus brings in from Czechoslovakia? Not gonna happen if this bill passes. Nifty trials parts for your Ty250 or TL125 from Great Britain? Kiss them goodbye. Replica frames from GMC in Australia? Adios, amigo.
According to Paul, the MIC currently has no official position on the bill and has not been involved at the draft stage. However, he did offer some comments based on his reading of the bill text and previous experience with the CPSIA.
My first question to Paul was whether this bill was actually as ominous as it seemed, and whether people like me — vintage bike hobbyists — should be concerned. His answer? A definite Yes, with a couple of caveats.
As currently written the bill does not encompass products that are otherwise covered by the Department of Transportation (DOT). What this means is that manufacturers of parts, pieces, and materials that are DOT-approved for street use should not be subject to the new regulations. Essentially the street bike crowd should be relatively safe. But if you’re into performance (non-DOT) parts for vintage road racing you’re vulnerable.
As for us dirt bike guys, almost none of our stuff is DOT-approved. There may be some parts for early dual-purpose bikes, but I’m not aware of anything. Typically, everything that comes in from overseas for dirt bikes is stamped “For Competition Use Only” specifically as a way of avoiding liability. None of this stuff will be allowed through customs unless the manufacturer has complied with the onerous registration, agency, and disclosure requirements of the bill.
Paul’s second caveat was that the bill does allow for rule-making after passage. He sees this as a good thing, as the main problem with the CPSIA was that limits were set in the law itself, allowing for little or no flexibility on the part of the bureaucrats responsible for implementation.
Specifically, the bill provides for the administrative bureaucrats to determine the minimum size of the manufacturers to be regulated, based on dollar volume, unit volume, and number of incoming shipments. This means there is the potential for certain small businesses to be exempt, but I fail to see any incentive for the bureaucrats to exempt them. Small, cottage businesses in foreign countries don’t have any political representation in this country, and can’t pay lobbyists to fight on their behalf.
I am not any more comfortable with idiot bureaucrats making laws than I am idiot Congressmen but, to Paul’s point, at least that allows for some input by the affected parties — however difficult and expensive that input may be. With CPSIA there was no input mechanism at all and the result was a legal quagmire of historic proportions.
Paul’s closing comment was that there are some benefits to the bill, in terms of making large foreign manufacturers more accountable, but it definitely bears watching and could pose serious problems to the vintage hobby.
I first became aware of the bill here, at the Learning Resources, Inc. blog. Editor Rick Woldenberg has posted additional commentary on the bill, specifically on the rule-making and minimum size aspects, here.
If you’re interested I have posted a Government Printing Office PDF of the bill, or you can track it at Thomas.gov using HR4678 for your search. (Note: If you open the PDF it may appear to hang for a minute as it goes out to the GPO site to validate authenticity of the document.)
In summary, I think this is going to be another bad piece of legislation and, unless we are very careful and proactive, the vintage dirt bike hobby could take a real beating on this deal. Few, if any, of the vintage parts guys are members of the MIC (as far as I know) and cannot expect to be represented by them. As to whether the AMA or AHRMA will take a position on this, I do not know. I will keep you updated here as I learn more.