ROHVA petitions: Keep side-by-side design standards voluntary

Publish Date: 
Apr 3, 2012

ROHVA petitions: Keep side-by-side design standards voluntary We talked with Paul Vitrano, EVP and general counsel of the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA), about the association’s preemptive efforts to head off a consumer watchdog group’s possible mandatory design standards for off-road vehicles. If you were in Indy, you were likely approached by a volunteer asking you to sign a petition.

The goal, Vitrano said, is to get Consumer Product Safety Commission’s chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum to work with ROHVA on voluntary standards and driver safety programs rather than instituting mandatory rules for side-by-side vehicles. The association was making an early play in its efforts to try and head off a crisis situation regarding the standards -- similar to what happened with the youth vehicle lead ban.

Tenenbaum and other commission members are pushing for the mandatory design safety standards. The powersports industry — led by ROHVA — argues that voluntary standards make more sense. The organization asserts that, aside from the question of intrusive government involvement, mandatory standards stifle product development and restrict consumer options. The CPSC has rejected drafts of voluntary standards developed by the industry as too weak, and Tenenbaum 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 beginning in May 2013 and would continue to do so unless the industry embraced far tougher voluntary standards.

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 is that it basically freezes designs at the time they issue the rule. It’s very difficult to modify a mandatory standard,” Vitrano says. “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.

During Indy, Vitrano updated Dealernews 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 24/7 at www.rohva.org, helps develop safe driving habits and is intended to improve awareness about ROVs and inspire a safety-minded approach to off-road recreation.

The closed-range course takes about two hours and is similar in layout to the ATV riding course.

And, there is the 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 segments 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 is to make progress against the [driving errors] we are seeing, especially not wearing helmets and seatbelts,” Vitrano said. — Joe Delmont

The ROHVA’s three-pronged approach includes:
LETTER WRITING. You can sign a letter addressed to Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman 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.

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.

“Our goal with the letter-writing campaign, is to tell Chairman Tenenbaum to work with ROHVA on voluntary standards rather than moving forward with mandatory standards,” said Paul Vitrano, the organization’s EVP and general counsel. Part of ROHVA’s objective, he added, is to compile letters so they can be sent to the CPSC when they are needed.

“We probably won’t send them right away because we are still in discussions with the CPSC,” he said. “But, we don’t want to wait until we are in a crisis situation like we were with the lead ban.”

Vitrano’s goal was 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 should one be needed.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2012 issue.