Off-road vehicles are fun, and dangerous, but certain members of Congress are more interested, it seems, in supporting vehicle manufacturers than in beefing up safety measures to protect consumers who ride them.
As reported on the investigative news site FairWarning.org, a dozen U.S. senators have written to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seeking to bar regulations the federal agency is considering to prevent rollover accidents.
CPSC figures cite 335 deaths involving ROVs from 2003 until April 2013. The agency estimates that ROV accidents cause 11,100 medically treated injuries every year. “In a typical severe accident scenario,” according to FairWarning, “the ROV flips while in a turn, the occupants are fully or partly ejected, and then suffer crushing or paralyzing injuries when the vehicle, often weighing 1,100 pounds, lands on top of them.”
The CPSC has spent five years developing a proposal to reduce the number of accidents. It has tested ROV models to devise minimum standards for vehicle handling, rollover resistance and seat belt use. Manufacturers would be required to display a stability rating on the hangtag for each ROV.
The senators’ letter, written a couple of weeks ago, urges the CPSC to delay a vote on imposing safety standards for recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs). The senators want the commission to continue discussing the matter with industry reps: “We recommend that the CPSC staff and the industry reach an agreement on voluntary standards that adequately address the risk of injury concerning ROVs.”
Talk is cheap, but off-road crashes can be fatal, especially to younger users. See our blog, “All-Terrain Vehicles Are Not Toys,” which reported research showing that 3 in 4 teenagers in one state have driven an ATV, and that kids 15 and younger represent 1 in 5 ATV-related deaths.
Is anyone surprised that 8 of the 12 senators who signed the letter have received campaign donations from ROV manufacturers? Is anyone surprised that several of those senators hail from states where ROV makers have corporate headquarters or factories?
As FairWarning noted, some signatories are considered strong consumer advocates, including Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and, in an example of either irony or hypocrisy, Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs the Senate consumer protection subcommittee, which called out officials from General Motors because their cars had faulty ignition switches that killed people.
The other senators who believe protecting this industry is more important than protecting its customers are Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Debra Fischer (R-Neb.), Joe Manchin III (D-W Va.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, called the lawmakers’ support for the industry the “normal course of business in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress … wrongfully, but reflexively, think they should defend the interests of the hometown manufacturer against the broader public interest.”
He also said that evidence for stronger safety standards “overwhelmingly favors regulation.”
It’s not as if these safety measures would put anybody out of business. The CPSC estimates that manufacturers would spend $61 to $94 per vehicle to meet the requirements, but that societal benefits would be nearly $2,200 per vehicle because of fewer deaths, lower medical bills and less time lost from work. The average ROV sells for about $13,000.
The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Assn. (ROHVA) is a trade group for manufacturers. Its members follow voluntary standards, but CPSC officials say those don’t address key safety issues adequately, including vehicle handling and rollover.
Industry officials blame injuries on drivers who try risky stunts or fail to heed warnings to wear helmets, use seat belts and avoid alcohol.
Last week, a CPSC memo said that commission staff ” sees no need for the commission to delay evaluating the [proposed rules]” for ROVs.
The next day, the commission stood up to the pressure and voted to move forward with the proposed rules for rollover crashes, FairWarning reported. “[I]n a 3-2 vote, commissioners rejected the call to stall a rulemaking process that has already taken five years,” the site said. “The majority argued that the prospect of a federal mandate would motivate the industry to strengthen its voluntary standard.”