© 2019 by Bill Uhl, ATV Expert Witness
As a Court-Qualified Expert Witness, I’ve assisted attorneys representing both plaintiffs and defendants in over 75 legal cases. The cases related to off-highway vehicle (OHV) safety training (or lack of) and accidents regarding ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles (street, dirt bike and motocross), guided tour issues and trail construction problems.
WHY THE SMALLEST COMPONENT IS CRITICAL
My first ISDT (motorcycle competition known as International Six-Day Trials or “The Olympics of Motorcycling” was in 1969. I was definitely a rookie. One of the U.S. riders was injured before the event started and I was the first alternate on the U.S. team that year in Garmisch Partenkirken Germany. By the end of the Six-Day competition, only two U.S. riders, Malcolm Smith and I, had earned a gold medal in our respective classes for the U.S. because we hadn’t lost any time during the intense timed trials.
At 19 years old, I was the second youngest rider to have earned a gold medal at the ISDT event during the previous 56 years history of the event that began in 1913. I believe Jeff Smith from England was the youngest (at 17 years old).
2019 marks the 106th running of the ISDT / ISDE, making it the oldest running off-road motorcycle event in the world. It’s known as the Olympics of Motorcycling because teams from so many countries around the world compete for the world cup.
When I’m providing Expert Witness testimony, I’m often asked how my past competitive, riding and recreational trail-building experiences contribute to the work I complete for the legal field. The answer is simple. Combine professional passion and a focus on related skills with constantly striving to master each specific task.
One thing is similar whether I’m writing a report for an attorney, conducting a site visit, testifying in Court or training personnel for Military Special Forces, corporate or government organizations. My job is always to break things down to their smallest components and then put them back together.
That focus is fuel for training operators and instructors to ensure a safe riding experience and environment. It also prepares me to serve as an Expert Witness regarding accidents related to the use of all-terrain vehicles, quads, 4-wheelers, (ATVs), utility vehicles (UTVs, side by sides, ROVs, RZRs), motorcycles of all types (dirt and street), snowmobiles, guided tours and trail construction issues.
HOW PATTERNS RELATE TO OPERATOR SAFETY
If you break down how different vehicles actually work under diverse situations and conditions, you notice patterns that emerge. Comprehending these patterns helps you gain the understanding you need about what leads to potential problems with machine designs. You can then grasp what knowledge is critical if you are to safely operate your off-road vehicle. You more clearly understand why off-road vehicles are so unique. As most manufacturers state in their owner’s manuals, off-highway vehicles are not like any other vehicle you’ve driven.
This means unaware machine operators are placed at greater risk of injury because they don’t know what questions to ask to keep themselves safe, during even normal operation at a basic level. For example: Some manufacturers tell operators of ATVs and UTVs not to turn the handlebars or steering wheel “too far too fast.” They fail to quantify what “too far too fast” means or tell operators what might happen if they turn “Too far too fast” in their all-terrain vehicle.
There is an added safety factor that is also not covered and tied to the turning of the handlebars or the steering wheel “too far too fast”. That is about the available traction that is present on different types of surfaces for the tires to grip. As the tires are provided with more traction, the effects on the handling characteristics change dramatically. This creates many of the rollovers that seem to occur for no apparent reason, even on flat ground.
With the above in mind, look at your personal off-highway vehicle (OHV). Whether you are operating an ATV, snowmobile, UTV or motorcycle, ask yourself tough questions like these.
- What affects how this vehicle works under the diverse conditions that are presented each time you operate your vehicle?
- What are the suspension settings?
- Are they balanced?
- Have you checked and balanced your tire pressures? (Click here to read a related article.)
- What effect do tire pressures have on the stability of your ATV, UTV and motorcycle?
- Do any of your machine’s tires have side wall or tread damage?
- Are all of the bolts and nuts that hold the vehicle together tight and in place?
- How does basic physics influence the operation of your snowmobile, motorcycle, ATV or UTV?
- What effect can you, the operator, have over the basic physics that exist during operation as you travel on diverse terrain?
When you truly reflect on the questions above, you’ll begin to understand why ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles often fail to perform at the most inopportune times and when you least expect it. You’ll also understand more about how to safely operate your vehicles when you understand why pre-ride inspections are critical to your safety. (Click here for more information.)
You, the operator, also have an opportunity to learn what manufacturers are not telling you that can ensure your safety. Break down the operation of your vehicle piece by piece. Then put it all back together. The more you know about the physics of how your off-highway vehicle works, the safer you’ll be. You’ll know so much that your ATV, UTV, snowmobile or motorcycle won’t catch you off guard when riding conditions and terrain change.
Please allow me to emphasize how important safety training is. Whether you’re riding for pleasure or work, one of your goals should always be to stay safe and avoid unnecessary machine or operator-error difficulties. Click here to read more about safety training.
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, quads, 4-wheelers), utility vehicles (UTVs / side by sides / RZRs, ROVs), snowmobiles, motorcycle dirt bikes, dual sport bikes and off-road bicycles trails. Uhl has completed over 75 cases while serving as an Expert Witness, including trial testimony. Click here for more information.