The two-passenger vehicles are designed for drivers over 16 years old with valid drivers licenses, although some reported deaths involved younger children who were passengers or who operated the vehicles against recommendations, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which announced the recall.
All Rhino 450, 660 and 700 model vehicles were recalled for repairs designed to prevent accidents that resulted in 46 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The reported deaths occurred from the fall of 2003, when the vehicles were first distributed, through this year.
More than two-thirds of the incidents were rollovers. According to the CPSC many of these involved turns on level ground at relatively slow speeds. A number of incidents also involved riders not wearing seat belts.
"These are incredibly large and disconcerting numbers," said Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for Consumer Federation of America. "It certainly is showing an alarming pattern of deaths and injuries, which is of grave concern."
The repairs are designed to reduce rollover risk, as well as to improve handling and keep riders' limbs inside the vehicles.
"The safety of our customers drives everything we do at Yamaha and today's announcement by the CPSC about Yamaha's free repair offer ... reflects this commitment," company spokesman Van Holmes said. He added that the reported incidents represent less than 1 percent of Rhino users.
Owners of the recalled Rhino models should stop using these vehicles and call their local dealer to schedule an appointment for repairs. They can also receive a free helmet.
"I strongly encourage owners ... to get these repairs as soon as possible," CPSC acting chairwoman Nancy Nord said in a statement. "In the meantime, safety dictates not to use these vehicles until the repairs are made."
Yamaha encourages Rhino users to follow safety guidelines included in the owner's manual and on warning stickers.
Sales of these vehicles have also been suspended for repairs.
This is the first government recall of this category of recreational vehicle.
For more details, call Yamaha at 800-962-7926.
On the Net: http://www.cpsc.gov