By Truman Lewis
March 31, 2009
It's not being called a recall but Yamaha Corp. is offering a free repair program for three of its accident-prone Rhino off-road recreational vehicle models. The company has also halted sales of those models until the repairs are completed.
There have been at least 46 deaths attributed to the Rhino 450, 660 and 700 models, most of them involving rollover accidents, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which advised consumers to stop using the ATVs until the repair is completed.
The CPSC staff has investigated more than 50 incidents involving 46 driver and passenger deaths in the Rhino models. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers and many involved unbelted occupants. Of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries, some of which were serious, many appear to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain.
About 120,000 of the 450 and 660 model Rhinos have been distributed nationwide since Fall 2003. Some units have been equipped by Yamaha with half doors and additional passenger handholds, either before or after sale.
Yamaha's repair includes the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels as well as the removal of the rear anti-sway bar to help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling, and continued installation of half doors and additional passenger handholds where these features have not been previously installed to help keep occupants' arms and legs inside the vehicle during a rollover and reduce injuries.
Owners of the affected Rhinos should stop using them and call their dealer to schedule an appointment to have the repairs made and to take advantage of a free helmet offer.
Yamaha is also implementing the same repair program and suspension of sale for the Rhino 700 model. About 25,000 Rhino 700s are included.
Once the repairs have been made, Rhino users should always wear their helmet and seatbelt and follow the safety instructions and warnings in the on-product labels, owner's manuals and other safety materials. The Rhino is only recommended for operators 16 and older with a valid driver's license. All passengers must be tall enough to place both feet on the floorboard with their back against the seat back.
For additional information, contact Yamaha at 800-962-7926 anytime, or visit the firm's Web site at www.yamaha-motor.com
The two-seat Rhino has long been a topic of concern for the CPSC as well as other consumer, safety and parent organizations. It resembles a cross between a golf cart and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). It's a popular design that enthusiasts say makes the Rhino fun to drive but critics say the design increases the rollover danger.
Because of its unique design, the Rhino isn't subject to ATV safety standards, which aren't exactly five-star anyway. A report last year found that for the eighth year in a row, serious injuries caused by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) increased in 2007, and children under age 16 continued to suffer a significant portion of those injuries.
Instead of classifying it as an ATV, the CPSC calls the Rhino a "utility terrain vehicle," or UTV. There are no official standards for UTVs, but that may change as the safety agency continues its probe.
The Rhino falls into what the CPSC calls the "emerging hazard" category -- a niche sometimes created by crafty manufacturers who find ways to work around existing safety regulations.
The Rhino, for example, has a steering wheel instead of the handlebars usually found on ATVs. That and other relatively minor differences leave it in category limbo -- neither car nor ATV -- and thus unregulated and unlicensed.
Since they're not regarded as cars, UTVs don't need licenses and can generally be operated by anyone, including children, which is a large part of the problem as regulators and consumer advocates see it.
"Every year, more and more families are devastated by deaths and injuries caused by ATVs. This tragic problem continues to be in dire need of an aggressive and immediate solution," said Rachel Weintraub, Director of Product Safety for the Consumer Federation of America.
Yamaha says the criticism is unwarranted and insists the Rhino is safe. Accidents are caused by careless operation and ill-advised modifcations, such as removing the roll cage and failing to use a helmet and seat belt.
Unlike ATVs, which are used almost entirely for recreational riding, the Rhino and other UTVs are often used for such utilitarian chores as hauling gardening and maintenance supplies. The first Rhino models were introduced in 2003, offering such new conveniences as bucket seats and a steering wheel. Some even have doors. A base model costs about $11,000.
While the Rhino may not be an ordinary ATV, it's still no toy and parents should not let children or adolescents treat it like one, experts warn. Here's what consumers have told us about ATVs, in their own words:
tom of jackson, TN August 16, 2009
My 36 year old son was a victim of the Rhino. He was a passenger traveling at estimared speed of 12-15 mph. My 38 year old son in law was driving. They were making a gradual left turn on absolutely flat terrain. Suddenly the Rhino flipped for no apparent reason. Results; compound fracture to fibula, tibia and broken hand. Now after 2 years and 8 surgeries he is still unable to work. Lost his job; lost health insurance, lost new home, permanently disabled, permanently disfigured, hasn't worked since July of 2007. Now he has a Staph infection.
Sometimes the collateral damage caused by an accident is worse than the accident. Oh, by the way because of this incident his wife recently filed for divorce. The accident occured in the middle of a hot summer day. No drinking no drugs no horseplay. The rhino is a death trap.
Joyce of Mccurtain, OK April 13, 2009
first i want to say these small towns like the one i live in have fines and laws against atvs,they know nothing of rhinos. they town or police just tell the kids to go home and they do nothing. the kids naturally come back out and just try to avoid being caught. there should be stiffer fines and also include the parents in the fines. the parents are just as guilty as the children. how many more injuries or deaths does there have to be?
Cynthia of Fairview, NC March 1, 2009
Cynthia of Fairview NC (03/01/09)
My son, 15, was driving an ATV on someone else's property along with some other boys. He came aroud a corner and a 18 yr ld boy driving a dirt bike hit him head on and he died almost instantly. He was not wearing a helmet and we will always wonder if he would've, if he would stil be here for us. He had been driving for years and didn't realy know the dangers. He owned a helmet and my last words were Where's your Helmet
A piece of my hisband and my heart are gone along with his brothers and sisters
Stephanie of East Prairie, MO February 24, 2009
Stephanie of East Prairie MO (02/24/09)
I have 3 boy's. zach age 5/Andrew age 10/Christopher age 12.Drew and Chris are 17 months apart, one year differance in school.Drew was pitcher and Chris was catcher in baseball.They played all sports on the same team.
Feb.27th,2008 Andrew was killed instantly while riding a ATV.Christopher (Drew's brother)found him in a field with the 4-wheeler and his friend that was on the back.
Christopher got the 4-wheeler off of the boy's. He made sure Drew's friend was ok and told him to stay by the back of the ATV.Chris did not want him to see Drew. Christopher said his brother's lips were blue. He checked to see if Drew was breathing. He was not. Chris took off Drew's helmet and shirt because gas had been leaking on the shirt. He then road his motorcycle home,came in the house and said MOM DREW IS DEAD. THANK GOD uncle Paul had stopped by that day.I told Paul to go with Chris while I called 911 and AIR-VAC.
I grabbed Zach put him in truck.When I got there all I could see was my dead baby lying there and he was purple.I ask Drew's friend how he was ,his leg was hurting and that was all.I told the boy's to get into the truck with Zach and PRAY for DREW. We tried CPR even though I knew my baby was dead. The result of all this is my family and my self totally heart broken,there are no words to explain.A person would have to go through this tragedy to understand.Christopher can not sleep at night he is very depressed and lost without his brother.Zach lays on Drew's bed yelling I WANT MY OLD LIFE BACK!I WANT MY BROTHER BACK.