Any car models actually been banned from the road for safety issues?

I saw this rather hilarious Top Gear video on the Reliant Robin, a 3-wheeled car that seems to spend more time rolled over on its side than it does upright. It appears to me to be the biggest deathtrap vehicle to ever go into production. And according to the video, it became popular among teens because it didn’t require a – regular?? – driver’s license, which made it doubly dangerous.

Yet it’s still on the road, at least the ones that have survived. Of course this is in the UK, and I would hope auto standards have gotten good enough today so it would never even be produced. There’s at least one of these things tooling around in the US, as shown in this parody video. Even as a joke, it’s a real car driving in NYC.

Is there any precedent in the US for just declaring some model of car to be so unsafe that it’s outright banned from public roads? Is it even possible by law?

The U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards generally apply to passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses. If sold in the U.S., the Reliant Robin wouldn’t be any of these because it doesn’t have enough wheels. Those standards define a “motorcycle” as “a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground.” So a Reliant Robin is a motorcycle for safety purposes.

As a motorcycle, it would be subject to motorcycle safety standards. They govern things like lights and brakes but they don’t deal much with stability or crashworthiness. People understand that motorcycles aren’t particularly stable or crashworthy. I’m guessing that England has a similar system with lighter regulations for the safety of motorcycles and I’m also guessing that England treats the Reliant Robin as a motorcycle or something similar.

The Reliant Robin was also produced long before today’s more stringent safety standards were in effect. Generally, the federal safety standards apply to the car at the time it was sold. States can impose their own safety requirements, but again, the general rule is that if your car meets the safety standards (lights, brakes, etc.) at the time it was made and all that safety equipment still works, it will be allowed to operate on the state’s roads. That’s why my 50-year-old car with single circuit brakes, no airbags and only front lap belts still gets to share the road with you.

As ever with Top Gear, the reality of the poor stability of the Reliant Robin was greatly exaggerated for comedic effect.

I had one for years and I never tipped it once, and any idiot can roll almost any car if they choose, its not at all hard to do. One thing I will say, rolling a car is likely to end up with a rather worse result than that seen with the Robin in Top Gear, you are not going to turn it back over single handed and drive away - assuming you are in a condition to even exit the car.

Rather a lots of the lines in that parody video are wrong too, mine never leaked, it was capable of motorway speeds, and as for reliability, well apart from the alternator, everything else was pretty much ok.

What you have to remember is that this is a design from the early 1960 with the predecessor Reliant Regal, and up to the early 1970’s it was pretty much a reasonable alternative to the cars of that era. I could go at similar speeds and carry a similar load, and needed a similar amount of maintenance.

By the time Top Gear got their hand on it, this was already 20-30 years out of date, and the engine dated back much much further. If you took most cheap cars from that 1960s to 1970s period, they would almost all be pretty awful, the Reliant Robin was no worse than any of them, and not really any less safe either, or at least just as unsafe.

The driving licence requirement was that you could drive one if you had a full motorcycle licence, so lots of bikers had one for the winter months and rode their bikes the rest of the year. It was classed as a motorcycle with sidecar. You still see conversions of these into trikes occasionally.

It was never popular amongst teens, they all wanted FS1E fizzies.

At the time when the Reliant Robin was designed, there was very little in the way of safety legislation anywhere. As a cheap car for getting around town, the Robin did the job. Clarkson, as always exaggerated the problem of only having three wheels, although there was also a highly desirable Morgan in the same period, and several others too in many countries around the world

In the UK at least the essential point was that with no reverse gear, they were legally a motorcycle, and a teenager could drive one a year earlier than they could drive a car.

All of these vehicles are collectors items these days - some quite rare.

The Robin would fail most of the safety legislation these days, but they are not retrospective.

Yep, the Reliant stuff was a bit made for TV.

Pretty vague question. Actually, every car in the world is banned from the road in the USA for safety reasons, unless it has been designed or retrofitted to meet US minimum safety requirements. No car is banned everywhere, there are countries where anything is street legal.

What was the three-wheeled car Peter Sellers drove in The Party?

I realize (even upon first viewing years ago) that the Clarkson segment on the Robin Reliant was a joke, but I always wondered a bit about the stability of having the steering axle be the single wheeled one - note the three 3-wheelers bob++ linked to have 2 wheeled axles in front, and the single wheel axle in back. Same goes for the Glorious “20th Century Motor Car” Dale model (apparently at least one exists, before the company was proven a scam) - 2 wheels front, 1 back. Heck, even the microcar Peel P50 seems to follow that layout.

Yes, I know that motorcycle trikes almost always have a single wheel steering axle and two wheel axle drive, but it seems their CoG is lower than that of a auto, no matter how small the vehicle, so they would be more stable.

The Brits did make use of lots of 3-wheel trucks, single wheel steering axle, but those were normally rather low speed vehicles.

A Morgan three-wheeler (F-Series). bob++'s link goes to an image of the 2011 “relaunched” version.

The NHTSA ordered all 2008 Zap Xebras to be recalled/destroyed due to braking issues.

As for the legalities, I’m sure it’d be theoretically possible but in practice the federal government doesn’t have a whole lot of control over motor vehicles after they’ve been manufactured or imported. There’s lots and lots of grey market cars out there that are illegal as far as the feds are concerned but are living happy lives in states that either don’t care or aren’t very good at checking for such things. If the feds wanted to ban a particular car, it’d either require some serious leaning on the states or the creation of federal enforcement mechanisms that currently mostly don’t exist.

Of course states themselves could ban them, for example like California does with any vehicle that doesn’t meet its extra emissions standards. But I’m not aware of any state that’s tried to implement more stringent safety standards.

This is the real point. ALL cars are banned until/unless they meet standards.

Many cars are designed and built even in 2016 in less fussy countries to less fussy standards. Such cars are absolutely banned from importation to the US.

The OP’s error is in thinking of it as banning a negative, rather than licensing an affirmative. To import or sell any car you must get federal approval for the design & construction. Absent that license you’re not going anywhere.

And this is generally true in every modern country. Germany refuses to license certain flavors of mainstream US-approved Ford & GM cars. So instead Ford & GM sell a German-specific model with the German-specific tweaks.

I don’t think it was actually banned, but wouldn’t the closest be the Chevy Corsair, the subject of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed?

Corvair. And it wasn’t banned. My uncle was a collector of 'em.

I always thought this was why the ford ranger and chevy s10 are no longer around. Too much work to make a small vehicle like that pass crash test ratings. Hence why the s10 was replaced with the much larger colorado.
Could very well be a bunch of hooey, since obviously small cars can still pass the tests.
This thread for some reason makes me think of the pontiac fiero and how horrible that vehicle would be in an accident, esp at high speeds.

What makes you think a Fiero has any different crashworthiness than any other type of car?

It is indeed. I can confirm that, since it’s almost always parked right around the corner from me, in front of the Chip Shop, a pub in my neighborhood. I see it all the time.

From Wiki - “The first-generation Corvair featured a rear swing axle design similar to that of the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle – a design which eliminates universal joints at the wheels and wherein the rear wheels are always perpendicular to the driveshafts. The design can allow rear tires to undergo large camber angle changes during fast cornering, leading to oversteer—a dynamically unstable condition where a vehicle can lose control and spin” Particularly bad in a rear engine vehicle.

I think Chevy promoted the Corvair as a bit of a sports car. And people pushed it as if it was one. The VW bug was not promoted that way. Nadar attacked it as an easy target and it did help increase car safety.

IIRC, in the 60s, the Citroen 2CV was banned from US bases in Germany. Too many service members were being killed or injured on the Autobahns.


I had a Dyane (2CV with posh bodywork) for several years and in no way was it unusually dangerous, unlike Volkswagen Beetles with their treacherous handling.
It wouldn’t meet modern safety standards, but just having front-wheel drive is a great advantage.

As to Reliant Robins, a friend of mine was killed in one in 1970. It wasn’t the Robin at fault; it was the 3-litre Rover coming round a bend on the wrong side of the road.
You are not forgotten, Mike.