Rhinos, Rollovers and Death

A 14-year-old from Mississippi was killed Saturday in Laurel Hill, Florida while racing at a motocross park in an all-terrain-vehicle, or ATV. The accident happened at the West Florida Motocross Park in Walton County. Witnesses say that the ATV flew into the air after the driver topped a hill, throwing him over the handlebars and onto the ground. At that point, the ATVcrashed on top of him with such force that it split his helmet in half. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

As Christmas approaches, many parents might think getting an ATV for the kids is a good idea. Think again. Recently a five-year-old was killed in South Carolina, a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina, and a three-year-old boy in central Wisconsin. A 15-year-old from Georgia was killed when he lost control of an ATV and crashed in rural Chattooga County. While ATVs were developed as a fun sporting three-wheel vehicle for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, the next generation – the four-wheel version – includes the Yamaha Rhino side-by-side or SXS.

It has two bucket seats, an open cage with roll bar and no doors. The Rhino is a particularly dangerous type of ATV. Described as a “golf cart on steroids,” and a width of 54 inches and a high center of gravity, it is particularly prone to tip, even on flat surfaces or turning at slow speeds.

It’s fair to say this is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The Rhino SXS is new to the market and government regulations have not caught up with design. Classified as a recreational off-highway vehicle, or ROV, it is in a largely unregulated category of vehicle, not low speed, and not cars, and not exactly ATVs because it can go up to 40 mph.

CBS News tells the story of a young mother who went for a ride in the Yamaha Rhino in November 2005. Her husband sat next to her and their 2-year-old was in the back. Traveling down a rocky road in Arizona, the woman tried to turn left and flipped the Rhino causing it to roll onto the driver’s side. The woman hit her head on the roll cage and died instantly. Her husband suffered three skull fractures, while their boy was okay.

The notoriously unstable Rhino has been a factor in 60 deaths and 440 injuries including head and neck injuries and amputations of arms, legs and fingers caught outside the vehicle in a rollover. Watch this YouTube video to see how easily they turn over.

In March 2009, the CPSC announced that Yamaha would offer a free repair to about 145,000 Yamaha Rhino Models 450, 660 and 700, distributed since the fall of 2003. That includes the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels as well as removal of the rear-anti-sway bar to improve handling, installation of half doors and additional handholds. The company announced it was voluntarily suspending sales of the three Rhino models. The same repair program was also initiated the same repair program and suspension of sale for the Rhino 700 model.

While the company made these moves toward safety, it also refused to take any corporate responsibility for the rollovers, deaths, and injuries instead blaming the victims for their own deaths.

Yamaha is facing about 500 lawsuits, mainly deaths and injuries from rollovers. Multidistrict Litigation will be heard in Kentucky and state court proceedings have been coordinated in Orange County, California, and Gwinnett County, Georgia.

In the first case in Orange, Texas, last August, Yamaha convinced a jury that Yamaha wasn’t to blame for the rollover death of a 13-year-old in 2007. He was reportedly traveling about 14 to 17 mph turning from a field onto a paved road when the Rhino rolled over. An expert testified at his trial that the Rhino can roll over at speeds as low as 11.5 mph. The boy was not wearing his helmet and Rhino warns against anyone under the age of 16 driving the Rhino.

Even Yamaha says you should leave the Rhino in the garage until the free fixes have been made. Give your children the best present this holiday and avoid the Yamaha Rhino altogether.

Sources: http://www.newsinferno.com/archives/5408; http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml09/09172.html