One area of growing concern involves the safety of recreational vehicles (RVs). Industry experts classify RVs into two categories: motorhomes and towables. Motorhomes are typically classified as Class A, B or C units. Depending upon the size and variations of towables, these units are sometimes referred to as travel trailers, fifth wheels, bumper pulls, or by other similar descriptive terms. The sizes and weight of these vehicles vary greatly among the available styles and options, and with a tow vehicle can reach lengths of 50 feet or more.
While the size of these vehicles is comparable to commercial motor vehicles (and in some cases larger), private owners and operators are not required to obtain a commercial drivers license. There is also very little requirement of training to drive and/or operate an RV on the highways.
Recreational industry groups report that more people currently own and operate these large vehicles and trailers than ever in the history of RV ownership. Recent research done by Dr. Richard Curtin, an industry analyst at the University of Michigan, reveals that as many as 8.9 million households are owners of RVs. About 8.5 percent of all American households own an RV.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the following are some of the recalls and product failures that have recently been identified with RVs:
- 2013 and 2014 model Jayco Pinnacle and Seneca model motorhomes and fifth wheels have been recalled for microwaves that may start on their own, creating a risk of fire.
- 2014 Forest River travel trailers (164 units) have been recalled because of incorrect labeling that may result in the units being overloaded, resulting in tire failure.
- 2015 Crossroad travel trailers (certain models) have been recalled as a result of spring hangers that may fracture and result in loss of control of the trailer.
- 2014 Keystone travel trailers (32 units) have been recalled for the same reason.
- 2014 Forest River Crusader fifth wheel trailers (94 units) have been recalled for potential tire failure.
- 2014 Triple E motorhomes (28 units) have been recalled because of lower wattage light bulbs, which could increase the risk of nighttime collisions.
- 2013 and 2014 Keyston Montana and Big Sky model RVs (1,957 units) have been recalled as a result of a fire risk resulting from the microwaves starting on their own.
- 2014 Crosswoods Redwood trailers (181 units) have been recalled for the same reason.
- 2013 and 2014 Motor Coach RVs (241 units) have been recalled for the same microwave defects.
- 2014 and 2015 Winnebago motorhomes (198 units) have been recalled because of accelerators that have been reported getting suck in the “wide open throttle position,” potentially resulting in uncontrolled acceleration and loss of control.
- 2014 Keystone RV trailers and fifth wheels (708 units) have been recalled because of inner wheel bearings that may become overheated and cause the wheel to seize or separate from the vehicle.
It should be noted that these recalls are only the April and May 2014 recalls by NHTSA. The number of RV recalls in the previous months is growing and somewhat disconcerting to folks driving on the nation’s highways and to those who use RVs for enjoyment and recreation.
One RV consumer group has cautioned potential purchasers about their purchase of certain class A motorhomes. The RV consumer group (www.rv.org) provides a valuable service to potential purchasers and current owners of motorhomes and other RVs. It describes a class A motorhome in this manner: “If you take a stripped truck chassis, put a trailer on it, and alter the front so you can drive it down the road, you’ll have a crude class A motor home. Another way of describing a class A motor home is that it’s like a bus with living accommodations.”
Most manufacturers of class A motor homes buy chassis with drive trains from an automobile manufacturer and then build the structure according to their design. The RVCG cautions that the operation of the longer class A motorhomes can be more problematic than the shorter units and can be more difficult to operate in certain driving and operating conditions. The group also notes that the “cockpit offers little protection to driver and passenger in accident situations.” This same group also cautioned:
Do not take for granted that a motor home built on a chassis by a reputable chassis manufacturer is a safe and efficient vehicle. Chassis manufacturers have very little control over RV manufacturers – many of whom are building poorly designed houses on reputable chassis. In one case we found evidence that an otherwise reputable motor home manufacturer underrated a chassis so they could promote a model with a higher-rated chassis. The problem here is that an underrated chassis has nowhere near the capacity to stop a motor home under normal loading and travel conditions. This is an unconscionable tactic, since it puts driver, passengers, and others on the highway in grave danger.
Although the class A’s biggest problems by far are payload and wheelbase, the issues of width, length, and structural integrity are not far behind. Another black mark against the class A, however, is the mounting of an overhead television in the cockpit. Because it poses a serious threat in an accident situation, it doesn’t make sense for a manufacturer to mount a heavy appliance over the heads of driver and passenger. At RVCG, we attach a penalty to the safety rating of any motor home with an overhead TV in the cockpit.
These safety concerns and manufacturing restrictions are matters that should continue to be evaluated by legal, safety and governmental groups in order to improve the safety and durability of these products. If you need more information on this subject contact Ben Locklar, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Ben.Locklar@beasleyallen.com.