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Big Brother Joins the Ride!

February 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

California’s AB1595, helmets, and the safety of UTV passengers

When California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1595, which was supported unanimously by the California Legislature, it sparked a social media fire for UTV owners that would burn hotter than the August sun. Seemingly out of nowhere the California UTV picture drastically changed overnight, or did it?

The burning questions were: Why did the UTV industry not see it coming? Who would speak for the fastest growing segment of off-road commerce, and why did the manufacturers support it?

AB1595 would require drivers and passengers to meet safety criteria beginning January 1, 2013, which include wearing helmets and seatbelts. Of even greater concern was a requirement that rendered 4-seat converted UTVs manufactured with only 2 seating positions no longer legal in California, and a provision that required passengers to meet strict guidelines that essentially outlawed small adults and children from riding altogether.

The seeds of AB1595 can be found rooted as far back as 2007, when the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) was formed by the major manufacturers and distributors of the now termed ROVs: Arctic Cat, BRP, John Deere, Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha. Having learned from their experience with the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) in the 1980s, ROHVA would make an effort to stave off a repeat of history that resulted in manufacturers agreeing to stop distributing 3-wheeled ATC-type vehicles. Without any evidence of a design flaw, consumers’ disregard for the safety requirements proved the 3-wheeled ATC would become a page in the history books of off-roading. Rather than allowing the CPSC to stop distribution of UTVs (as it did with the ATC), ROHVA was going to self regulate before the hammer could come down from bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

Liberty carries along with it the requirement that we take responsibility for ourselves, and with a lapse comes increased regulations and loss of personal freedom. Manufacturers’ safety standards have called for a host of items the consumer has largely ignored. In an October 2008 CPSC report, you can see AB1595 start to take shape, based on reports to the CPSC leading as far back as 2003. By December of 2008, discussions between CPSC and ROHVA regarding self-imposed safety standards start to bear fruit, drawing on the manufacturers’ safety guidelines listings. While the California Legislature has taken the heat for overreaching legislation, it is easy to see that concern of a repeat of the ATC is the driving force for AB1595. In talks regarding safety standards, at large public participation from the OHV Community is recorded as those in attendance at the December 15, 2010 CPSC meeting on the subject. Those attending this event are limited to a single husband and wife who unsuccessfully filed a $20 million suit against Yamaha.

The disconnect AB1595 brings to light is the lack of an UTV enthusiasts-based group to add balance to discussions on UTV best practices and safety legislation. AB1595 is a carbon copy of UTV safety standards listed in manufacturers’ handbooks. While the ROHVA attorney’s single-dimension approach to limiting liability in a litigious society makes sense to an association dedicated to protection of its membership against the heavy hand of the CPSC, citizens have a vastly different outlook on the subject. Remembering that legislators work for the citizens, who represented the voice of the public in the years of discussion surrounding AB1595?

Enter a loosely based group of UTV industry partners called the International SXS Association (ISA) who want to change this concept. Seeing the need to organize this growing segment, the ISA will hold its first convention October 21, and it is fair to say AB1595 will be a topic on the agenda. Is it too little too late? It is unlikely an association like the ISA can unwind the effects of AB1595, but it does offer a view into the future of an industry that has gone largely unnoticed in regards to regulations. Assemblyman Paul Cook (R), author of AB1595, has helped introduce a follow-up measure (AB1266) based on massive response to his office fueled by social media beyond California. This proves the power of an organized campaign can effect change, but it is a shame the effort was not considered long before AB1595 left subcommittee.

With no opposition debating AB1595 during subcommittee, UTV enthusiasts never had the opportunity to modify language that would have made safety standards more palatable. Rather, a hastily created AB1266 has been introduced in the hopes families can continue using UTVs in California come January 1, 2013. This reactive approach will not yield the outcome all UTV owners will embrace, but it does gain hope for proactive participation in the states that will likely attempt to follow California’s lead.

AB1595 demonstrates a larger problem of apathy in the United States, and one that can be easily solved. Participation, unity, and the addition of a voice in the legislation will need to be addressed if we hope to see the continued growth of the UTV industry. With no action, CPSC history presents a lesson of a vastly different vehicle, or worse, the discontinuation of a vehicle that has captured the attention of an entire industry. Perhaps organized and respected enthusiasts can work with ROHVA to better protect personal freedoms and explore options on safety standards. In the future, enthusiasts need voices at the table with the CPSC and ROHVA, or the community will be left wondering how a law undermined family participation in the fastest growing segment of off-roading.

The California Parks Department is currently reviewing the new requirements of AB1595/AB1266 and how they will best create an enforcement plan that the BLM and USFS are expected to adopt. The policy created in California has the potential to shape policy for the entire nation. If you would like to participate in the direction of this policy, you are invited to contact the California Parks Department at . Please add AB1595 in the subject line. To find out more information about the International SXS Association, please visit

As of this writing, AB1266 has been passed by the California Legislation and is awaiting a signature by the Governor no later than September 30, 2012. The CPSC is expected to make a ruling on UTV products in May 2013.



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