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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 19, 2014

Unreasonably high safety risks lead to proposed safety standard for recreational off-highway vehicles

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

Citing the unreasonable risk of injury and death associated with recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), the Consumer Product Safety Commission has proposed a safety standard that would establish lateral stability and vehicle handling requirements and occupant retention requirements. The proposed standard also would require ROVs to have a passive means, such as a barrier or structure, to provide additional limits against the ejection of a belted occupant in the event of a rollover. Comments are due by February 2, 2015 (CPSC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking79 FR 68964, November 19, 2014).

Background. ROVs are motorized vehicles that combine off-road capability with utility and recreational use. Reports of ROV-related fatalities and injuries prompted CPSC to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in October 2009 to consider whether there may be unreasonable risks of injury and death associated with ROVs. (74 FR 55495, October 28, 2009). The Commission received 116 comments in response to the ANPR. Based on those comments and the information in the CPSC staff’s briefing package, the Commission issued this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR).

Products covered by NPR. ROVs are motorized vehicles designed for off-highway use with the following features: four or more pneumatic tires designed for off-highway use; bench or bucket seats for two or more occupants; automotive-type controls for steering, throttle, and braking; and a maximum vehicle speed greater than 30 miles per hour (mph). ROVs are also equipped with rollover protective structures (ROPS), seat belts, and other restraints (such as doors, nets, and shoulder barriers) for the protection of occupants. ROVs differ significantly from all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in vehicle design. More specifically, ROVs have a steering wheel instead of a handle bar for steering; foot pedals instead of hand levers for throttle and brake control; and bench or bucket seats rather than straddle seating for the occupant(s). Most importantly, ROVs only require steering wheel input from the driver to steer the vehicle, and the motion of the occupants has little or no effect on vehicle control or stability. In contrast, ATVs require riders to steer with their hands and to maneuver their body front to back and side to side to augment the ATV's pitch and lateral stability.

The proposed standard specifically excludes ATVs, golf carts, fun carts, go carts, and light utility vehicles as defined by the relevant voluntary standards.

Hazardous characteristics. After examining ROV-related incident reports and determining that at least one reported incident involved a death or injury, a multidisciplinary team reviewed all the documents associated with these incident reports and identified a number of key hazard characteristics of ROVs. Those key hazards included rollovers and occupant ejection and seat belt use.

Overview of proposed standard. Based on the incident data as well as information from the Yamaha Rhino repair program (which is detailed in the proposal), the Commission expressed its belief that the most effective approaches to reducing ROV rollovers were to improve lateral stability by increasing rollover resistance and to improve vehicle handling by correcting oversteer to understeer. To implement these approaches, CPSC proposed requirements for: (a) a minimum level of rollover resistance of the ROV when tested using the J-turn test procedure; (b) a hang tag providing information about the vehicle's rollover resistance on a progressive scale; (c) understeer performance of the ROV when tested using the constant radius test procedure; (d) limited maximum speed of the ROV when tested with occupied front seat belts unbuckled; and (e) a minimum level of passive shoulder protection when using a probe test.

Compliance dates. The Commission proposed two compliance dates: ROVs would be required to comply with the lateral stability and vehicle handling requirements 180 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, and with occupant protection requirements 12 months after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register. The extended compliance date for occupant protection requirements was based on the realization that, on some ROVs, manufacturers will need to redesign and test new prototype vehicles to meet the occupant protection requirements. The CPSC staff estimated that it would take approximately 9 person-months per ROV model to design, test, implement, and begin manufacturing vehicles to meet the occupant protection performance requirements.

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