If you want to prevent the consumer watchdogs in Washington from setting design standards for off-road vehicles, now is the time to act, before the problem reaches a crisis stage.
At least that’s the way a leading industry group sees the situation. I talked Friday with Paul Vitrano, EVP and general counsel of the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA), and he told me about three information initiatives the association is launching at Dealer Expo:
- LETTER WRITING. You can sign a letter addressed to Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), asking her to halt plans to move forward with mandatory recreational off-highway vehicle standards and to work with ROHVA on voluntary standards and safety programs. (More about these standards in a moment.) Copies of the letter are available at the ROHVA booth (#1835) or from volunteers and staff throughout the show.
- TEXT ROV to 30101 to obtain news on side-by-side vehicles.
- QR CODES. You can scan QR codes with your smart phone to register for updates from ROHVA, an organization affiliated with the MIC. These are available at various sites throughout the show.
“Our goal with the letter-writing campaign,” says Vitrano, “is to tell Chairman Tenenbaurm to work with ROHVA on voluntary standards rather than moving forward with mandatory standards.” Part of ROHVA’s objective, he said, is to compile letters so they can be sent to the CPSC when they are needed.
“We probably won’t send them right away,” he said, “because we are still in discussions with the CPSC. But we don’t want to wait until we are in a crisis situation like we were with the lead ban.”
Vitrano’s goal is to collect 1,000 letters; during the lead ban letter writing campaigns, nearly 5,000 letters were collected.
One of ROHVA’s key goals in the three campaigns is to build a database of interested persons to support a grassroots campaign, if one is needed. “We want to have a body of people who are interested,” says Vitrano.
Background: Mandatory vs Voluntary Standard
Tennenbaum and other commission members are pushing for mandatory design safety standards on SSVs. The powersports industry— led by ROHVA,— wants voluntary standards.
The CPSC has rejected drafts of voluntary standards developed by the industry as too weak, and Tennenbaum has told The New York Times, “We have to make sure there is stability and standards that prevent rollovers.” She said the commission is moving toward adopting mandatory standards and would continue to do so unless the industry embraced far tougher voluntary standards, according to the Times report in December.
Aside from the question of intrusive government involvement, mandatory standards stifle product development and restrict consumer options, argues ROHVA.
The CPSC is eyeing a mandatory standard, beginning in May 2013. The first step would be to issue a rule at that time calling for the standard, setting forth the commission’s rationale for the standard and providing a draft of its proposed rule.
The process would include a public comment period that could extend for as long as six months for a rule as complex as this. The comments would be reviewed, then the commission could enact the proposed rule, change it or drop it entirely.
“Our fundamental concern with a mandatory standard,” says Vitrano, “is that it basically freezes designs at the time they issue the rule. It’s very difficult to modify a mandatory standard.
“The CPSC could propose a rule in 2013 and not implement it until 2015. But in the intervening time, OEMs could have added features that are an improvement, but are in conflict with the mandatory standard.”
By contrast, an industry voluntary standard is generally reviewed and updated every five or six years and would incorporate changes and upgrades in the machines.
“We were disappointed to see her comments (in The Times),” said Vitrano, because he and other ROHVA representatives had met with CPSC staff in November to discuss technical issues.
“We felt that we had done a lot of work to address their concerns and evaluate some of the things they were opposing, and the staff acknowledge our work. We felt we were making progress.”
Side-By-Side Basic Driving Course
Vitrano also updated me on ROHVA’s expanded training program for drivers of SSVs. They include an online course, a closed range course, and a set of six modules that are terrain specific.
More than 2,500 persons have completed the free ROV E-Course, a multimedia, interactive online safety course launched in July 2010. The two-hour safety course, available at www.rohva.org 24/7, helps develop safe driving habits and is intended to improve awareness about ROVs and inspire a safety-minded approach to off-road recreation.
Second, there’s a closed-range course that takes about two hours. It’s similar in layout to the ATV riding course.
Third is the unique new six-module trail-experience training package. Each module takes about 30 minutes and is usually done in conjunction with the closed-range course. The modules are designed to teach riders how to maneuver SSVs in different types of terrain including sand, water, mud and rocks and driving in tight turns and on sidehills.
The cost for the program is about $150 and is set by the contractors who provide the training.
“Our motivation with this training,” says Vitrano, “is to make progress against the (driving errors) we are seeing, especially not wearing helmets and seatbelts.”