After more than 30 reported fatalities, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is investigating recreational off-highway vehicles, also known as utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), which are unregulated by the commission.
Yamaha Motor Company’s Rhino is a focus of the probe by the CPSC, and the company also faces more than 200 lawsuits, several alleging safety problems with the design of the product. The Rhino looks like a cross between a golf cart and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), with two bucket seats and a roll cage.
Yamaha says that most injuries occur because of improper operation and modification to the vehicle. “If you operate it carefully and use some common sense and good judgment, it’s a really great product,” Roy Watson, general manager of legal for Yamaha Motor Corp. USA stated.
At this time, there are no regulatory standards for UTVs. The design differences between UTVs and ATVs exclude it from ATV safety standards. When no regulation or standard is in place, the CPSC must determine if there’s a substantial risk of injury and death. Injury reports stemming from a particular unregulated product alert the CPSC to problems, which may cause an investigation into the product’s safety. ATVs, for example, became the focus of a 1987 lawsuit filed by CPSC after over 100 deaths and 100,000 injuries stemmed from the vehicles. Though a preliminary settlement was reached and voluntary safety standards were put in place, it wasn’t until August 2008 that it became possible for the standards to become mandatory, which they will be in April 2009. Once the standards are mandatory, failure to meet them can lead to recalls or civil penalties.
Yamaha says that it voluntarily complies with some federal vehicle standards, such as seat belts, in the Rhino. They have also added doors this year as standard equipment, and have placed strongly worded warning stickers on the product. The company also helped form a trade association called Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association last December, along with its competitors, which will set voluntary safety standards for the unregulated vehicles.