UTV Accident Reconstruction
UTV / ROV / Side-by-Side Accident Reconstruction and Failure Analysis
by a Board Certified Forensic Engineer
Utility-terrain vehicles (UTV), also known as Side-by-Side Vehicles (SxS, SSV) or recreational off-highway vehicles (ROV), are a relatively new category for off-road manufacturers. ATV manufacturers such as Yamaha, Polaris and Kawasaki, among others, have discovered a market for these Side by Sides as a “family friendly” ATV and as a way for multiple passengers to share in the off-road experience.
Recent developments in the Side by Side category have yielded “sports” versions which are capable of speeds in excess of 70mph. ROV accident reconstruction requires an understanding of the significant speeds and terrain capabilities of UTVs. The vehicle characteristics of ROVs present a unique challenge for the development engineers to ensure that these compact off-road vehicles can be operated safely by all users, regardless of their experience level. While working for one of the leading major off-road vehicle manufacturers, Veritech’s lead power sports expert gained first-hand experience and knowledge in the design, engineering, testing, and product development of Side by Side vehicles, and holds a patent (US Patent Number US 6,840,338 B2) for a unique suspension system designed for UTVs. This first-hand product development experience provides valuable insight into the challenges and compromises faced by the development engineers of ROV type vehicles.
As a result, our lead ROV accident reconstruction expert utilizes his extensive product development knowledge to aid in the reconstruction of accidents and product failures involving Side-by-Side vehicles. Some of the common problems associated with Side by Side accidents include: handling and stability issues that lead to a rollover or tip over crash (resulting in severe injuries to hands, arms, legs, and necks), functionality of safety systems such as roll cages or ROPS (Roll-Over Protection Systems), and driver errors or misuse.
History of the UTV Market
UTVs and ROVs are a relatively new class of personal recreational vehicles which have evolved as a hybrid of utility vehicles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). UTVs combine the cargo hauling capability and 2+ passenger capability of a traditional utility vehicle with the speed and off-road capability of an ATV to achieve a new category of recreational vehicles. More recently, the UTV / ROV market has segmented even further to include “Sport UTVs”, such as the Polaris RZR and the Can-Am Maverick, which have minimal cargo capacity but emphasize speed and terrain capability for up to four occupants.
Utility-Terrain Vehicles such as the early John Deere Gators and Kawasaki Mules were initially manufactured in the late 80’s as work vehicles for hauling light loads and traversing mild terrain, as would be encountered on a farm or a construction site. Design features of traditional utility vehicles included limited suspension travel, or no suspension in some cases, and relatively low power engines which kept the operation of the vehicle to relatively low speeds due to the uncomfortable ride quality and poor handling on rough terrain. Eventually, consumers began demanding higher speeds, better ride quality and greater terrain capability. Manufacturers responded by producing the class of vehicle known as Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROV); also known as Side-by-Side vehicles (SSV). ROVs are typically four-wheeled vehicles which are under 2,000 pounds, less than 74” wide and utilize bench or bucket seats and a steering wheel for control. More recently, sub-categories with the UTV segment have evolved to include the high-performance sport category and the multi-passenger (or crew) category, as well as combinations or hybrids of various categories.
The operation of UTV’s is considered to be “not rider-active”, meaning that the operator does not actively effect the vehicle’s handling through body positioning, as is done on other recreational off-highway vehicles, such as ATVs or motorcycles. As such, the occupants of a UTV are seated similar to an automobile. With the occupant seated, safety considerations require that the ROV / UTV employ appropriate means of protecting the operator in the event of a crash, or if the vehicle overturns. Manufacturers have implemented several occupant protection systems such as: seatbelts to prevent the occupant from being ejected, side netting or doors to prevent crushing injuries to the occupant’s arms or legs in the event of a side tip-over, hand-holds for each occupant, and roll-over protection structures (ROPS) to protect the operator in the event that the vehicle experiences a rollover or tip-over.
As ROVs have gained popularity, so too have crashes and other incidents which result in personal injury or death to the occupants. In response to the rapid increase in injuries associated with UTVs / ROVs, the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) was formed. ROHVA’s mission is to promote the safe and responsible use of UTVs that are manufactured or distributed in the US. ROHVA is accredited by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) to develop standards related to UTVs and ROVs. ROHVA is funded and sponsored by major UTV manufacturers such as Polaris, Honda, Kawasaki, BRP (Bombardier), and Yamaha.
ROHVA’s most recently published standard was approved in 2016 and contains design guidelines for issues such as: speed and braking requirements, equipment and configuration requirements, stability requirements, Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS) minimum strength requirements, and occupant retention system requirements. It is important to note, that the ROHVA standard is voluntary for manufacturers follow; there is no government mandate that a UTV / ROV must meet the ROHVA standards.