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June 27, 2022

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Senators advocate on behalf of off-highway vehicle industry

The Columbian
Published:

LOS ANGELES — Manufacturers of off-road vehicles have enlisted the help of a dozen U.S. senators to try to block regulations intended to prevent rollover crashes, which have killed hundreds of riders.

In a letter earlier this month to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the senators urged delaying a pending vote by the commission on safety standards for the popular trail machines known as recreational off-highway vehicles. Instead, the lawmakers called for the commission to continue long-running discussions with the industry.

Eight of the 12 senators have received campaign donations from manufacturers of the vehicles, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Several represent states where makers of the vehicle have corporate headquarters or plants. Some who signed are regarded as strong consumer advocates, including Al Franken, D-Minn., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. Another is Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the chairwoman of the Senate consumer protection subcommittee, who’s grilled General Motors officials over deaths linked to faulty ignition switches in GM cars.

According to industry and Senate spokespeople, the letter was spearheaded by Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, where recreational off-highway vehicles makers Polaris Industries and Arctic Cat Inc. are based, and by Republican Dean Heller of Nevada. The other signers were Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

The commission says it’s aware of 335 deaths involving recreational off-highway vehicles from 2003 until April 2013, and it estimates that such accidents result in 11,100 medically treated injuries per year. In a typical severe accident scenario, 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 commission staff has spent five years developing the agency’s proposal, an effort that’s included extensive testing of current ROV models. The rule would include minimum standards for vehicle handling and rollover resistance. To encourage the use of seat belts, it would require that ROVs be limited to speeds of 15 mph when the belts aren’t fastened. To enable shoppers to compare the rollover risks of different models, manufacturers would have to display stability ratings on the hang tags for each vehicle.

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