© 2019 by Bill Uhl at OHV Training
UTV (side by side / ROV / all-terrain vehicle) manufacturers have not been fully forthcoming about the dangers of UTV over-steering. They do not state why over-steering is dangerous in certain situations. As a court qualified Expert Witness, I have often been asked to address this issue.
Most manufacturers provide a simple warning in the owner’s / operator’s manual, “don’t turn too far too fast.” This is an ambiguous, confusing and unquantifiable phrase. What does “too far, too fast” mean to anyone, especially an unskilled operator with little to no experience operating an UTV?
Without proper training and without experience confronting a related challenge in a controlled environment, the unskilled operator has no frame of reference to draw from when they face a challenging condition. Because the unskilled operator doesn’t know what they don’t know, this can create a very dangerous situation.
A qualified UTV / side by side / ROV safety instructor can provide an exercise under controlled conditions so an operator can gain hands-on experience in a safe arena to deal with the over-steering condition they face when driving a side by side / UTV / ROV.
Manufacturers allude to over-steering when they tell new operators in an owner’s / operator’s manual that the UTV “is not a toy and can be hazardous to operate. This vehicle handles differently than other vehicles, such as motorcycles and cars. A collision or rollover can occur quickly, even during routine maneuvers like turning.”
Unfortunately, manufacturers do not fully explain why or how the over-steering condition is dangerous or when it cause problems. Although the above information is within the owner’s manuals (to the degree I just mentioned), the information in the manuals, which generally consist of about 130 pages, does not stand out so owners and operators can grasp the importance of the issues I’m addressing in this article.
You can verify what I’m saying by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website. Search “UTV or side by side rollover accidents” so you can discover page after page of incidents in which UTVs have rolled over. Notice the number of rollovers. Too many incidents are related to the fact that operators do not understand what “don’t turn too far too fast” means.
Manufacturers are aware that operators drive their UTVs on different type of surfaces such as grass, gravel, packed clay, mud, hard pan, slick rock, embedded rocks in different types of soil, snow, ice, concrete, asphalt, water covered surfaces, steel grated ramps and bridges, etc. In spite of this awareness, manufacturers merely recommend not to drive on some of those surfaces. They do not explain the associated dangers to operators about the surfaces.
Why should an operator not drive their side by side on asphalt? A critical safety factor regards how much traction / grip the asphalt surface will provide to the UTV’s tires in their existing condition, as well as how much tires are inflated. Correct tire pressure and balance are crucial. Click here to learn more from a related article about ATV tire pressure.
While the UTV’s tires grip more on asphalt than on a gravel-covered road bed? With all factors equal, including weather conditions, asphalt will provide the best grip / traction to the UTV’s tires. When someone analyzes the effects of different types of surfaces UTVs might be ridden on, they discover that slick rock, concrete, packed clay with and without embedded rocks of different sizes, hard pan consisting of different types of soils and sizes of rocks, and steel grated loading ramps and bridges all create surfaces that can provide the same as or more grip / traction than asphalt can provide.
Manufacturers fail to warn operators about all of those conditions that provide more grip / traction than asphalt. A reasonable person would assume that manufacturers are either unaware of the difference I’m discussing or they have chosen to keep this information from the public. The bottom line concerning what makes asphalt dangerous is the amount of grip / traction provided by the asphalt as it interfaces with the tires, not the fact that asphalt is asphalt. I say this because the amount of the grip / traction affects how the over-steering is exaggerated.
Have you ever driven a vehicle without power steering? Do you remember how sensitive steering was when power steering was first introduced in the marketplace? That relates to how different type of surfaces interface or react with a UTV’s tires. Note: Over-steering has more pronounced effects when speed enters into the equation. Consider two critical factors: (1) how fast the operator is traveling when they turn the UTV’s steering wheel and (2) how fast the operator turns the steering wheel while traveling at a specific speed.
You can easily understand that a UTV can become highly unstable when it travels faster and the operator turns the steering wheel farther. This maneuver can too easily create a rollover, even on flat ground, regardless of the type of surface the UTV is traveling on.
Note: The UTV operator can increase the rollover rate by simply increasing speed or how far and how quickly they turn the steering wheel when driving on any type of soft soil in which the UTV’s tires are sinking into the soil, even as little as 1/2 inch.
Manufacturers fail to tell operators that, if they put their vehicle in 4×4 while cornering, (with all conditions the same as if their vehicle was in 2×2) in soft soil and other surfaces, the operator can significantly decrease the chance of a rollover. This is because, when operating the ROV in 4×4, the UTV’s front wheels are pulled through the corner by their own action and power, instead of being pushed into the corner by its back wheels.
Over-steering was created for one major purpose: To allow the UTV to be able to turn around rocks, downed trees, washouts, etc. without the operator having to back up and do multi-point turns. Although this can be considered safe when operating the side by side at very, very, slow speeds, a major safety issue is created when speed is added to the maneuver.
This issue could be resolved mechanically. The corrective electronic technology may already be available to resolve the issue. For whatever reasons, manufacturers have knowingly or unknowingly side-stepped this issue, even though it is related to UTV / side by side accidents and injuries.
NOTE: This article is not intended to be all inclusive. It is designed to provide a foundation for the reader to learn from.
Bill Uhl is a Safety Trainer and Court-Qualified Expert Witness for cases involving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility vehicles (UTVs / side by sides / ROVs), snowmobiles, motorcycle dirt bikes, dual sport bikes and off-road bicycles. Uhl has completed over 75 cases while serving as an Expert Witness, including trial testimony. Click here now for more information.