The recent vote by the Consumer Product and Safety Commission in favor of a rule imposing mandatory product safety standards for recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV) is causing concern in the industry. Polaris is just one company raising the alarm, but the trade association in support of the industry - The Recreational Off Highway Vehicle Association - issued a statement on the issue too.
In its statement, ROHVA says it was "extremely disappointed" that the CPSP voted to move ahead with a mandatory standard. The industry has worked under voluntary safety standards, and worked to update the standard in 2014. The effort apparently fell on deaf ears as the government agency is moving ahead after a 3-2 vote on the issue. The new standard would become mandatory, reversing a program that included voluntary safety testing for new machines.
The new proposed mandatory standard - it still must go through a 75-day comment period - includes a test for lateral stability and vehicle handling requirements that specify a minimum level of rollover resistance and that the machines exhibit "sublimit understeer characteristics." The agency does not want to see oversteer that can lead to a lateral slide. CPSC aslo proposed "occupant retention requirements" that limit the speed of an ROV to no more than 15 mph unless both driver and passenger are wearing a seatbelt. In addition the rule would also require a passive barrier like a door or other structure to limit further ejection of a belted occupant in the event of a rollover. And there would be added information requirements, such as signs or other devices to warn passengers.
Jason DiFuccia, Polaris, talked with off-highway media on a call Friday who said there's a need for users of side-by-side equipment to think of this as a "call to action." He notes the next 75 days provides a time to comment on the proposal, and to motivate lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to push back against the proposed mandate. "We want to make this industry as safe as possible, safety is good for everybody," DiFuccia says. "What we believe is an issue is that the new standards will not make the industry more safe."
He notes that the CPSC testing standards are based on automotive tests that have little applicability to off-highway use. In addition, there's a concern that the proposed rules would have unintended consequences.
In the ROHVA statement, the organization says "ROVs are well designed and safe when operated properly. The proposed rule, if ultimately approved, would limit the ability of ROV manufacturers to design vehicles to safely provide the level of performance that is expected by [off-highway] enthusiasts." The group says that due to those issues it "will have no choice but to contest the proposed rule in order to help ensure that vehicles appropriate for off-highway environments are available to consumers across the nation."
Polaris' DiFuccia says this is a call-to-action for enthusiasts on the issue. "If [CPSC] goes ahead it is a bad thing for riders and there will be less good experiences off-road," he says. The new rules could lead to lower suspensions, firmer tires and other design changes that would be bad for everybody in the off-road industry.
Adds DiFuccia: "Safety is at the heart of things, but we disagree with the way they want to go about mandating it."
Polaris will fire up a new website next week to help off-roaders better understand the issues it feels are important on the topic. They'll also provide a means for sending a note to Congress and other ways the public can reach out on this issue.
Groups in favor of the mandated safety testing say the industry is over-reacting and they point to CPSC's report of 335 deaths involving ROVs from 2003 through April 2013. CPSC says ROV accidents cause more than 11,000 medically treated injuries every year.
The big concern is that in a rollover when a side-by-side flips all occupants are thrown from the vehicle and can suffer severe injuries. ROHVA counters that the industry has worked with CPCS on new voluntary standards, but the commissioners with the agency maintain the new voluntary standards aren't enough, though the vote was close and split along party lines - the three who voted for mandatory testing and rules were Democrats.