The Yamaha Rhino Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) was introduced in 2003. UTVs are small four-wheeled off-road machines that generally provide two seats inside a roll cage, with a small walled bed in the back, reminiscent of a pickup truck. They are generally higher off the ground than the traditional four wheeled ATV and have a longer wheelbase.
The Rhino has developed a reputation for its tendency to tip over or roll when pushed into a rapid turn or difficult slope. Some accidents with the vehicle have landed the vehicle on its side during a relatively slow turn. Critics have identified one of the design flaws in the Rhino as a wheelbase that, while longer than an ATV is too narrow to handle the high center of gravity and weight of two passengers and a load of outdoor gear in the back.
There have been injuries and fatalities resulting from Rhino accidents. In many of those accidents, Rhino passengers have suffered from limb or spinal injuries when thrown to the side during a rollover – this despite wearing seat belts. The original Rhinos had no doors whatsoever, providing no side protection to occupants. Apparently in response to the spate of injuries, in 2007 Yamaha announced that it would install half doors and a passenger handhold for Rhinos manufactured from 2004 through 2007 free of charge.
The doors and handholds are standard on the 2008 models. This is as close as Yamaha has come to admitting to design flaws. Thus far there has been no Rhino recall, but there have been enough accidents, injuries and deaths that lawsuits are being filed against Yamaha for product liability.
The company has included cautionary notes in its 2008 owner’s manual, and has issued a warning label mounted on new vehicles that says, in part: “Turn gradually and go slowly if you must drive on pavement…this vehicle is designed for off-road use only.” The label also has directions on how to protect oneself if the Rhino starts to roll over.
The Yamaha Rhino is still on the market, now with doors, a handgrip and dire warnings. The design remains the same, however, and the company remains exposed to product liability lawsuits. Any “utility vehicle” that cannot be safely used on pavement is going to require careful use in any environment and seemingly constitutes a real danger to kids who think it might be fun to drive it around the block.