Yamaha introduced its Rhino utility terrain vehicle (UTV) in 2003. The Rhino is a two seat off-road vehicle that is slightly longer and higher than most ATVs and has a cargo box on the back that functions as a miniature pickup truck bed. The Rhino as it was built from 2003 to 2007 had no body other than the equipment bed: the two passenger seats were surrounded by a roll cage.
Rhinos are higher and longer than their ATV cousins, but the chassis is no wider than most single seat four-wheelers. The result of this long and fairly narrow chassis design has been many instances of Rhinos being tipped over on their side or rolled over altogether. People who were involved in these accidents complained that the narrow chassis and high center of gravity were a design defect that caused malfunctions in situations that should not have been unsafe.
Yamaha acknowledged the Rhino’s limitations by introducing doors and handgrips on the 2008 model and by offering to retrofit previous models with doors and handgrips at no cost. They are also cautioning all Rhino buyers that the vehicle should not be driven on pavement, where it is prone to tipping even on flat surfaces when turned at a reasonable rate of speed.
Rhino rollovers have resulted in many instances of serious injury and several fatalities. The design flaws include a narrow wheelbase, high center of gravity and small wheels. The result is a vehicle that, as Yamaha warns, functions poorly on paved surfaces and should never be driven by anyone under 16 or anyone who does not have a driver’s license.
There have been fatalities as a result of Rhino accidents in California, Texas, Michigan and other states. In February of 2008, two people died in two separate Rhino rollovers in California’s Imperial Sands Recreation Area. The news reports of the incidents state that one of the fatally injured parties was wearing a seatbelt but was partially ejected anyway.
These types of incidents have plagued the Yamaha Rhino since it was introduced and have led to legal activity in several states. Rhino rollover lawsuits may involve single parties who have been harmed, or they may lead to consumer oriented class action suits.
Too many accidents have occurred with a vehicle that, by the manufacturer’s admission, must be driven great caution – and apparently, only by people with extensive experience. One of the fatally injured parties in the Imperial Valley park was riding in a rented vehicle being driven across the face of a sand dune.