The Yamaha (Rollover) Rhino: UTV or DTV (Death Trap Vehicle)


Yamaha Rhino (Rollover) Dangers

Most people see the popular and sporty Yamaha Rhino, a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) with its supped up bucket seats, a steering wheel instead of handlebars and sturdy roll cage, and instantly get visions of off-road family fun.

But for hundreds of individuals and families across the country, the Rhino is a stark reminder of corporate negligence, allegedly responsible for catastrophic rollover crush injuries, amputations and tragic deaths…all preventable.

In fact, all but fifteen states have reported at least one or more Rhino rollover tragedies (22 states report multiple severe injuries and/or deaths) resulting in amputations, crushes, fractures, acute compartment syndrome, surgeries, and dozens of deaths, often on flat ground at low speeds and where seatbelts were properly used.

Looks have never been more deceiving.

Emerging Hazard

A cross between a golf cart and an ATV, the Rhino falls outside current regulations for an ATV because it has a steering wheel instead of handles, bucket seats for increased comfort and a narrow frame, which Yamaha insists is necessary for riders to navigate trails and obstacles, such as tree limbs, rocks and other hazards that present problems for the average, wider ATV.

Because the Rhino is neither a car nor an ATV, it’s not bound by the same standards of safety, but rather is in a class of its own – Utility Terrine Vehicle (UTV), which to date, has no regulations for safety. Many would argue the Rhino’s design was purposefully engineered as a means to avoid the more strict safety standards of the ATV.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has classified the Rhino as an “emerging hazard” due to the high numbers of severe injuries and deaths, but is powerless to act until tougher standards for the newer UTV category are created. Over two-thirds of the accidents investigated by the CPSC have involved rollovers, many at low speeds on level terrain.

Last month, parents of fatally injured children and adults who lost limbs and suffered severe fractures, head trauma and crush injuries, joined the Trauma Foundation and the Center for Auto Safety in the release of an in-depth report focusing on the Rhino, calling on lawmakers and the CPSC to recall all product for safety retrofits and impose strict guidelines for all future products within the UTV class.

Among Rhino’s many defects, the report cites directional instability (narrow frame), rollover propensity (high weight load) and poor occupant containment as the leading causes of preventable acute injury and death. The report further points to other manufactures of UTVs that have voluntarily gone the extra design mile for added protection without detracting from fun or functionality.  The report outlines how simple, cost effective retrofits and design changes can drastically reduce injuries and prevent needless deaths.

Dangerous Static Stability Factor (SSF)

SSF is a measurement used to determine the rollover risk of autos, pickups, vans and SUVs. With a rating of only 0.88 (compared to 1.17 for a SUV and 1.41 for autos) the Rhino scored worse than any 4-wheel vehicle ever tested due to its high weight load and narrow frame, incapable of handling sharp or sudden turns, or tilting due to rocks, crevasses and other off-road/dirt road hazards.

While Yamaha is quick to accuse injured or killed drivers of irresponsible and aggressive maneuvering resulting in a rollover, many of the life-threatening and fatal accidents were alleged to have happened during prudent and/or casual operation, often on flat terrain and at very low speeds.

Advertised for “uneven terrains”, conditions that actually make the Rhino’s narrow (54” wide) frame extremely dangerous and prone to rollover, Yamaha began a less than stellar “C-Y-A” campaign, placing labels on the UTV warning drivers not to make “sharp turns”; a worthless warning since drivers are unable to determine how sharp is too sharp, especially in hazardous off-road conditions where sharp or sudden turns are part of the environment.

In fact, a sharp turn to avoid debris or rocks, or a even a crevice or hole on a flat dirt road will also likely result in a rollover, even at slow speeds, so if your destination is off the path most traveled, you’re taking great risks in a Rhino …a potentially deadly risk.

Compartment Safety

Yamaha rolled out the Rhino in 2003 featuring an open compartment (no doors) with no safety feature to prevent arms or legs from flying out during predictable rollovers.

Weighing about 1,100 lbs, amputations, crush injuries and deaths have occurred, often at slow speed, when limbs were ejected and pinned beneath the heavy vehicle or the unpadded roll cage, despite the use of seatbelts.

Nine-year-old Jeremy Crow was killed when (as a passenger) the Rhino did a quarter-roll at very slow speed. Despite wearing a seatbelt, Jeremy was ejected and crushed.

Ten-year-old Ellie Sand was also ejected while wearing her seatbelt when the driver turned and the Rhino rolled to the passenger side, crushed by the weight of the roll cage. Investigators for the State of Ohio concluded there was no evidence that the driver was reckless.

Justin Miller, a sixteen-year old licensed driver and ATV veteran, took every precaution, wearing his seatbelt, as well as a helmet when he drove his family’s new Rhino for the first time on vacation. Still, while driving with caution, the Rhino rolled and his arm flew from the vehicle, crushed by the roll cage.  His hand could not be saved and was surgically amputated above the wrist.

Yamaha Response

In August of 2007, Yamaha announced a half-door retrofit campaign as a result of increased leg, foot and body ejections causing catastrophic related crushes, fractures, amputations and dozens of deaths. However, many owners that requested doors in response to the special offer were denied because demand for the doors exceeded supply.

Because Yamaha only issued one letter to owners without follow up, a letter that was ignored by many because the letter stated “Special Offer” rather than wording relating to a warning of any kind, to date, only an estimated 50% of the 120,000 Rhinos sold in the US have been retrofitted. Many owners are still not aware that the protective retrofit offer exists.

The Report called for a national recall; re-design and retrofit to include full doors and hand/arm netting to protect passengers.

Other manufactures have taken safety more seriously. Honda’s Big Red, for example, features full hand, arm, feet and leg protection. The Polaris RZR comes equipped with torso, leg, foot, hand and arm net protection, allowing an open-air feeling while still preventing injury from ejection.

Failed Seatbelts

Critics also cite several defects in the Rhino seatbelt design: single-point positioning (receiver stalk too high above the shoulder), failure to properly restrain small adults and children snugly in the pelvic area, and poor seatbelt engagement; failing to lock at angles sufficient to prevent ejections during a rollover. During a tip or rollover at fast or slower speeds, the seatbelts fail to engage at early angle changes and the occupants are ejected and/or partially ejected and crushed.

In fact, the negligence of Yamaha is blatantly explained by their admission that the Rhino’s seatbelt design was never tested to ensure occupant safety during a rollover. One would think that a functional seatbelt worthy of off-road hazards would be a ‘given’ by any manufacturer, but not Yamaha.

The report calls for ‘Four or Five Point Harness’ restraints with angle locking retractors more responsive at any speed during tipping and rollovers.

A Recall Announced

Perhaps this recent in-depth consumer report and years of public outcry for action has finally taken hold. On April 1st, the CPSC announced that Yamaha was recalling an estimated 120,000 Rhinos, models 440, 660 and 700, to make safety enhancing repairs free of charge after 46 deaths and hundreds of severe injuries.

“The safety of our customers drives everything we do at Yamaha and today’s announcement by the CPSC about Yamaha’s free repair offer for Rhino models 660 and 440 reflects this commitment,” company spokesman Van Holmes said.

Some would argue that Yamaha’s “drive to keep customers safe” is late in coming, and without providing ‘above the door’ netting in the repairs, limbs will still be at risk of crush injuries.

The recall announcement states that the repairs are designed to reduce rollovers, improve handling and keep limbs inside the vehicle, including:

  • 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,
  • 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.

It’s unclear how many deaths and catastrophic injuries must occur before the CPSC is driven to action in the form of tighter safety regulations for the UTV class. In the meanwhile, protection of the public is laid at the hearts of those who have lost loved ones or themselves been seriously injured as they take their battle against Yamaha’s negligent design to the courts.  Their courage and unyielding persistence in the face of tragedy will ultimately force greater protection for future generations of off-road enthusiasts, and we…the public, owe them a great debt of gratitude.