Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on the trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.
With the winter holiday season approaching, many families are looking forward to hard-earned vacations and fun activities with their loved ones. And many will be looking to ride, rent, or purchase recreational vehicles for some fun—from all-terrain vehicles (“ATVs”) and golf cars to off-road motorcycles and snowmobiles. Thus, as we head into the winter season, we turn our attention to Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) regulatory actions involving recreational and utility vehicles for this month’s installment of “Recalls in Review.”
ATVs, recreational off-highway vehicles (“ROVs”), and utility terrain vehicles (“UTVs”) are highly regulated by the CPSC. ATVs are required to comply with federal safety 16 CFR Part 1420, which incorporates by reference the American National Standard for Four-Wheel All-Terrain Vehicles (ASNI/SVIA 1-2017). Under the federal safety standard, manufacturers, importers, and/or distributors must file an ATV action plan with the CPSC before they can legally import or distribute any new assembled or unassembled ATVs into commerce in the United States. The CPSC publishes extensive guidance regarding ATV and ROV safety, as well as reports on deaths and injuries involving off-highway vehicles, and some guidance on snowmobiles. Voluntary industry safety standards exist for snowmobiles (SAE J 1222-2012; SAE J 1038-2020) and golf cars (ANSI/OPEI Z130.1-2020)—two other products that are also common subjects of CPSC recalls.
At least 214 recalls of recreational and utility vehicles have been conducted by the CPSC since January 2011. Although the number of recalls per year has generally increased over time, a significant number of recalls were also conducted prior to 2011. The CPSC has also issued at least four civil penalties issued relating to recreational and/or utility vehicles.
ROVs have been the most commonly recalled type of vehicle by the CPSC since 2011, followed by utility-terrain vehicles (21%) and ATVs (16%). The recalls have also targeted off-road closed course/competition motorcycles (11%), snowmobiles (11%), golf cars (9%), a few “minibikes”, an off-road fun-kart, and an amphibious vehicle.
The CPSC’s June 2021 guidance on ATV and ROV safety states that children are at higher risk on these vehicles, particularly when children drive adult-sized vehicles or when more than one passenger rides on a vehicle built for a single rider. The CPSC reports that children under the age of 16 account for the third-highest percentage of off-road vehicle related deaths by age group. Notably, nearly all of recreational and utility vehicles recalls since January 2011 are for general (or adult) use vehicles. Only five recalls of recreational vehicles designed for youth riders have been conducted since 2011.
According to information provided by the CPSC recall announcements, forty-five percent of the recalls since 2011 address issues with the products that pose a crash hazard. The issues that pose a crash hazard vary widely across the recalls, including problems with: the steering system or loss of steering function, the brake assemblies or parking break, the throttle, clutch, suspension arms, shock absorbers, wheels, software or electrical systems, and more.
Another forty-one percent of the recalls address fire and burn risks. These hazards typically relate to oil/fuel leaks created by problems with the fuel tanks, fuel line/hose, other components of the fuel pump system, turbocharger, exhaust header pipe, other components of the exhaust system, muffler, and heat shields. Two of the recalls for youth vehicles, both in 2015, addressed issues with the fuel system components that could lead to leaks (Youth ATV, Youth ROV).
The remaining three recalls of Youth ATVs were all conducted because the vehicles failed to comply with the requirements of the mandatory federal safety standard for ATVs, including maximum speed limitations. The announcement for the one of the Youth ATV recalls from September 2021 also called out that the youth ATVs were imported and distributed without a CPSC-approved ATV action plan.
Unlike many off-the-shelf consumer products, recreational and utility vehicles are larger, complex pieces of machinery. Accordingly, the remedy offered by nearly all of the recalling firms is a free repair of the defect at issue, rather than a refund or replacement product. Consumers who are interested in riding, renting, or purchasing a new or used recreational or utility vehicle should monitor relevant recalls on CPSC.gov or SaferProducts.gov.
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About Recalls in Review: As with all things, but particularly in retail, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending with consumers. Regulatory enforcement is no different—it can also be subject to pop culture trends and social media fervor. And this makes sense, as sales increase for a “trending” product, the likelihood of discovering a product defect or common consumer misuse also increases. Regulators focus on popular products when monitoring the marketplace for safety issues.
As product safety lawyers, we follow the products that are likely targets for regulatory attention. We share our observations with you through Recalls in Review.