Federal safety officials are investigating the Yamaha Rhino, a popular off-road-vehicle that has been linked to 30 deaths. The Yamaha Rhino resembles a cross between a golf cart and an all-terrain vehicle. Unfortunately, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has not set safety standards for vehicles like the Rhino, which it classifies as a utility terrain vehicle, or UTV. Another class of off-roaders, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), are subject to safety standards. Vehicles like the Rhino aren’t classified as ATVs because of design differences- for example, the Rhino has a steering wheel, while a standard ATV has handlebars.
While off-road vehicles are involved in hundreds of accidents every year, critics say the Yamaha Rhino is even more likely to be involved in one particular type of mishap – rollover accidents. They allege that the Yamaha Rhino is top heavy, and its tires are too narrow. These design flaws make it far more likely that the Yamaha Rhino will tip and rollover while turning, even when the vehicle is traveling at a slow speed on a flat surface.
Furthermore, the Yamaha Rhino leaves passengers’ legs are unprotected in the event of a rollover. Because of this, victims of Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents usually experience broken or crushed legs, ankles or feet. In some cases, victims have been permanently disabled. Some have had limbs amputated following a Yamaha Rhino rollover accident. When Yamaha Rhino rollover accidents involve children, the results are usually disastrous, if not fatal.
Critics of Yamaha say the company has been slow to acknowledge the Rhino’s rollover problems. Although the vehicles were first introduced in 2003, it wasn’t until September, 2006 that Yamaha Motor Corp. sent a letter to the owners of Rhinos warning that the Rhino was prone to tip while making sharp turns. However, the wording of the Yamaha letter seemed to place much of the blame for Rhino rollover accident injuries on the victims themselves. Yamaha warned passengers of the Rhino to use seatbelts, and keep their hands, arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Unfortunately, it is difficult if not impossible to stay inside the vehicle when it starts to roll!
The letter also included information on handling the Rhino if it should start to tip over. Since Yamaha sent the 2006 letter, it has become increasingly apparent that the actions recommended by Yamaha do little to protect passengers involved in Rhino rollover accidents.
In 2007, Yamaha offered free modifications to the owners of new and used Rhinos. These modifications included add-on doors and additional handholds. The modifications have not protected occupants as well as had been hoped.
The CPSC’s decision to investigate the Yamaha Rhino was based on numerous reports of accidents and deaths involving the vehicle, as wells as the high number of injury lawsuits – over 200 – filed by people who claim they were injured by the Rhino.
Yamaha continues to stand by the Rhino, saying it voluntarily complies with some federal standards. It appears that Yamaha and other UTV makers are trying to head-off mandatory safety standards by adopting their own safety rules. These manufacturers formed the Recreational Off Highway Vehicle Association to set those standards, but following the standards will be voluntary.
Critics of the Yamaha Rhino are still pushing for mandatory standards. Earlier this year, Congress passed safety rules for ATVs that go into effect in April. Proponents of mandatory standards for UTVs say similar rules would allow the CPSC to act quickly if it spots an apparent safety problem, because a failure to meet the standard can lead to a recall or civil penalty.
Yamaha and Rhino are trademarks of Yamaha Motor Corporation.