CPSC Moves Ahead On Mandatory Side-by-Side Standards

Picture of roll simulator testing performed on behalf of the CPSC.

Picture of roll simulator testing performed on behalf of the CPSC.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) has voted to move ahead with mandatory product safety standards for recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), also known as side-by-sides. The UTV industry is vigorously protesting and the industry trade association, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) issued a statement stating…

The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association is extremely disappointed that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission today voted 3 – 2 to begin the process for a rule imposing a mandatory product standard for recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), commonly referred to as side-by-sides.
The proposed rule relies heavily on CPSC assumptions, rather than on scientific conclusions drawn from relevant testing or incident data….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 OHV enthusiasts.  (Full Statement)

The CPSC’s draft proposed rules includes:

 (1) lateral stability and vehicle handling requirements that specify a minimum level of rollover resistance for ROVs and require that ROVs exhibit sub-limit understeer characteristics; and (2) occupant retention requirements
that would limit the maximum speed of an ROV to no more than 15 miles per hour (mph), unless  the seat belts of the driver and front passengers are fastened; and the rule would require ROVs to  have a passive means, such as a barrier or structure, to limit further the ejection of a belted
occupant in the event of a rollover.

The CPSC makes a distinction between low speed UTVs that have a top speed of 30 mph and higher speed UTVs which the rule is targeting. There will be a 75 day comment period regarding the new rules and the industry is encouraging side-by-side enthusiasts to make their voices heard on this issue. Polaris has created a website where people can contact their Congress member. As of this posting over 12,000 people have used the website to contact over 500 members of Congress.

The industry is arguing that CPSC’s methodology in developing the standards is flawed because it is “…inappropriately apply design- restrictive standards developed for on-highway vehicles, without ensuring that those principles apply in off-highway environments.” In the CPSC’s briefing package they state

ROVs obey the same principles of motion as automobiles because ROVs and automobiles share key characteristics, such as pneumatic tires, a steering wheel, and spring-damper suspension that contribute to the dynamic response of the vehicle.11 Thus, the test procedures to measure the vehicle handling properties of passenger cars and light trucks are also applicable to ROVs.

What is not mentioned as a common key characteristic between the vehicle types is the type of ground upon which they operate and this appears to be a critical distinction. The CPSC reports 335 deaths involving ROVs from 2003 through April 2013 and estimates that ROV accidents cause more than 11,000 medically treated injuries every year. The CPSC calculated the cost of the changes at $61 to $94 per vehicle and the societal benefits at $2,200 per vehicle. While the industry has developed voluntary standards over the last several years, the CPSC does not believe that these are enough. Those in favor of the ruling believe the industry is exaggerating the negative impacts of the standards.

A video on the Polaris website mentioned above makes a few points about why they believe the standards are a bad idea.

  1. Steering changes proposed would make vehicle steering less predictable and responsive.
  2. Proposed stability changes would require manufacturers to lower and widen vehicles, which would reduce ground clearance and prohibit trail access, or require stiffer tires which would result in less traction on hills, longer stopping distance and more spin-outs in corners. In addition the standards would eliminate factory installed cabs and doors. (This is not explained but I assume it has to do with the vehicle’s center of gravity)
  3. The seat belt interlock could lead to unintended high-speed vehicle decelerations, rely on sensors that could be unreliable in harsher off-road environments and would eliminate under seat storage.
  4. The passive restraints would make vehicle entry and exit more difficult.

Learn more:  Farmfutures.com

Comments:  If what the industry says is true then these standards could be in direct conflict with some of the recent trends in the market, namely increased ground clearance and narrower vehicles to access ATV trails. In addition, marketing content for some vehicles has been touting improved designs for better vehicle entry and exit. I would like to hear from some engineers or those similarly informed on the applicability of the testing standards and how big an impact the standards would have on vehicle design.

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