Recently, media attention has once again focused on the dangers of off-road vehicles, particularly, All-Terrain Vehicles (“ATVs”) and Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (“ROVs”). The media seem to highlight these dangers when a death or serious injury in some way involves a public figure. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of injuries and deaths caused by off-road vehicles that are not covered by the media.
In 2015, at least 97,200 people were treated in emergency rooms as a result of ATV incidents and there were an estimated 674 ATV-related deaths. (These reports are ongoing and the number of fatalities may increase.) From 2003 through August 2016, there were 942 reported ROV-related incidents resulting in 665 deaths and 843 injuries.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) is supposed to protect consumers from unreasonably dangerous products, including ATVs and ROVs. So why doesn’t the CPSC do anything to make these dangerous vehicles safer? This question has been one of the most troubling in my years as a CPSC Commissioner.
The leading cause of deaths and injuries involving ATVs and ROVs is rollovers. ATVs are typically single-passenger vehicles ridden much like a motorcycle with a handlebar for steering. ROVs are typically 2- or 4-passenger, side-by-side vehicles that drive more like a car with a steering wheel, seatbelts, pedals and doors. I accepted long ago that there are unique and difficult challenges to making ATVs more stable. CPSC has focused instead on some very basic safety measures like brake lights and reflectors and warnings about driving ATVs on-road.
But ROVs are a very different matter. We know how to greatly improve the safety of ROVs. The story of ROVs is more fully explained in my recent Statement, however, here is the quick version.
There is a technically feasible and rather simple way to improve ROVs’ inherent stability resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of rollovers which would save hundreds from death or serious injury. However, industry has refused to improve the stability requirement in their voluntary safety standard which is the only way to require this design change. Industry has also successfully lobbied Congress to restrict the CPSC from pursuing mandatory rulemaking to require a stronger stability requirement.
Until we address the serious, inherent risks posed by ROVs, these tragic statistics will remain constant. These numbers are unacceptable. There is a solution. We just need industry to make safety a priority or get Congress to let the CPSC do its job.