Manufacturers Press Congress to Halt Regulation of Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles

Monday, June 29, 2015
(photo: Polaris)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) wants to tighten safety standards for ROVs, the recreational off-highway vehicles that have come under scrutiny for their record of fatal accidents. ROV manufacturers are now trying to get around the CPSC by getting Congress to throw a wrench in the rule-making process, according to reporting by Myron Levin of FairWarning.


ROVs are half-ton, four-wheel vehicles that look like souped-up golf carts, but are suitable for driving on dirt trails and even carrying loads in small cargo beds. However, they are known to sometimes flip over while negotiating a turn, causing their occupants to be fully or partially ejected, leaving them vulnerable to being paralyzed or crushed when the ROV falls onto them. The industry prefers voluntary standards, but it reportedly doesn’t address these risks and dangers.


With the number of fatalities mounting, the CPSC finally took action and last year approved, after a five-year study, rules that would require ROVs to be designed to make them less likely to flip on paved roads, and to have speed-sensitive interlocks on seat belts and passive restraint systems.


However, ROV manufacturers, including industry leader Polaris, have rallied and lobbied Washington lawmakers to put the brakes on CPSC’s action. A bill now moving through both houses of Congress at the behest of ROV firms would mandate a study by the National Academy of Sciences—at a cost to the CPSC of $800,000 to $1 million—to investigate whether those standards are necessary. The measure, dubbed the RIDE Act, would impose a two-year ban on implementing the approved CPSC regulations.


The roadblock to the CPSC rules is being “powered by an aggressive social media campaign and political donations” on the part of the manufacturers, wrote Levin. Republican lawmakers who see the ROV industry as being hamstrung by the regulations have been showered by donations from industry officials and employees, with hundreds of thousands of dollars going to at least 17 of the RIDE Act’s co-sponsors, as well as to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to Levin.


Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) is questioning the call for such a study. “It is not clear to me why this study is needed,” she said (pdf) at a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. “After all, the CPSC has gone through its regular rulemaking process on this issue, taking into account the input of technical experts, the private sector, and the public.”


The study is beside the point, of course. Manufacturers are hoping that by the end of two years, there will be a Republican administration in the White House that will appoint a corporative majority to the CPSC and the rule changes will just go away.


What the ROV manufacturers and Congress are doing establishes “a terrible precedent for the future,” CPSC commissioner Robert S. Adler told FairWarning. “Because it says that any time you don’t like what a regulatory agency is doing, go to Congress and get them to make an agency pay to have an independent assessment done by a group like the National Academy of Sciences.”


At least 461 people have died in ROV accidents since 2003, according to FairWarning. The total is almost certainly higher because the only figures on such fatalities come from news reports, which don’t document every accident.


“There are real-world consequences…for delaying, and that is severe injuries and deaths,” Rachel Weintraub, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, told FairWarning.


Among the safety advocates who agree is Heidi Crow-Michael, whose nine-year-old son died when an ROV in which he was a passenger rolled over. Testifying last month before the House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee, Crow-Michael read a list of names of children who have been killed in ROVs.


“Our stories did not…end the day our loved ones were killed or injured,’’ she said. “We will live with the consequences forever. You have an opportunity to become a part of their story, the part that offers hope for the future, by bringing about change. Delay is a problem…Waiting for more data is waiting for more deaths.”


Only four of the 20 House committee members showed up to hear her testimony.

-Danny Biederman, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Off-Road Industry Looks to Congress to Put Brakes on Safety Regulation (by Myron Levin, FairWarning)

ROV Industry Fighting Pending Safety Regulations It Says Could Backfire (by Gary Gastelu, Fox News)


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