Incident Prevention Magazine

Steve Andreas

When Utilities Leave the Pavement: Off-Road Driving Safety Challenges

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The need to safely access hard-to-reach areas continues to be a struggle in numerous industries, including utilities. Historically, people have pushed the limits of machinery and designed better tools in attempts to access such areas. In the early days of automobiles, for instance, enthusiasts modified and improved the designs of their vehicles, enabling them to travel farther across terrain on which the vehicles were never originally designed to travel. As technology and industry continued to progress, manufacturers began to design vehicles specifically intended for off-road applications, which led to the development of a new vehicle category: the all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Over time, the ATV label – which originally applied to Jeeps – became synonymous with four-wheelers, or quads. As even more time passed, ATVs eventually became useful not only as recreational vehicles but as staples of off-road transportation for industrial uses as well.

While ATVs were first produced specifically for utility use in the early 1980s, the utility task vehicle (UTV) – also known as a side-by-side – was initially launched by Kawasaki in 1988 as the MULE, an acronym for multi-use light equipment. The UTV provides features that cater better to industrial applications, such as more seating and cargo capacity. ATV-type vehicles existed long before the 1980s, but they were designed and used almost exclusively by the recreational market. Since utility use of ATVs and UTVs did not exist before the 1980s and became more commonplace in the 1990s, the market and technology are still relatively new from a regulatory standpoint. However, due to significant advancements in the functionality and reliability of these vehicles, industrial use has grown dramatically in recent years. That has prompted an increase in the need to identify proper use of these machines as transportation to access job sites or as tools to aid workers in performing tasks.

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