Four wheeled motorbike

Lives depend on quad bike safety changes

The death of a 10-year-old boy on the weekend has taken the number of Australians killed in quad bike accidents to six in 2019 alone.

With a heavy heart, farm safety campaigner, Charles Armstrong says the Federal Government must act now to save lives.

For more than 10 years, making quad bikes safer for farming families has been a top priority for the National Farmers’ Federation and a personal quest of mine.

Quad bikes remain one of the most unsafe consumer products on the Australian market. They are a leading cause of avoidable death and injury on Australian farms.

In less than a decade, 126 people have been killed in incidents related to quad bike use in Australia.  Seven people, many of them children, have already lost their lives this way in 2019. Tragically, just this past weekend a 10-year old boy was killed in a quad bike roll-over incident.

In addition to the high human cost in ruined lives and livelihoods, these incidents place a significant burden on rural health providers and the public purse, costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year in medical expenses and emergency services callouts. 

Despite these devastating figures and a decade of advocacy from the farm sector, no minimum safety standard currently exists.

This is simply not good enough.

Australian farmers are entitled to rely upon the latest and most reliable research in order to protect themselves, their families and their employees from avoidable harm. We have the means and the knowledge to make these machines safer, and yet so far, nothing has changed.

What does it say about a society when the lives of those who put food on our table and clothes on our back are seemingly held in such low regard?

Something has to give.

In an encouraging sign that change may be imminent, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) have published an extensively researched report into how quad bikes may be made safer and more suitable for the needs of Australian consumers (see here).

The report makes a number of recommendations based upon extensive research and consultation with industry, safety specialists, and quad bike users. Significantly, it calls for a suite of “consumer protection” requirements for new-model quad bikes at the point of sale.

Though these changes are not so extensive as to be needlessly disruptive, there will still be a minimum grace period of 12 months during which they can be comfortably implemented.

The key consumer protection changes include requirements that:

  1. Within 12 months, all new bikes must comply with US/EU manufacturing standards and meet minimum stability requirements to reduce the risk of a mechanical failure or rollover
  • Within 12 months, all new bikes to be pitch-tested to determine the angle at which the vehicle is likely to rollover and for this information would be displayed on tags for consumer consideration
  • Within 24 months, all new “general use” bikes to be fitted with operator protection devices on all new quad bikes

The National Farmers’ Federation is committed to an evidence-based, common sense approach to safety, and fully supports the recommendations made in the ACCC’s report. The proposed changes would have minimal impact on the suitability of quad bikes for a range of agriculture-related activities, but would be effective in reducing the number of deaths resulting from their use.

It is important to reiterate that the ACCC’s recommendations won’t come into effect immediately and do not extend to bikes already owned or the second-hand/resale market.

They will not affect the value of existing bikes (nor those purchased in the next 12 to 24 months). Some small business owners may harbour concerns that these changes will negatively affect them. The fact is that a spike in competition as manufacturers adapt is more likely to be of benefit to businesses who deal in quad bike sales than not.

Furthermore, it is relevant to consider that the current market for quad bikes is shrinking rapidly as consumers increasingly opt for safer, cheaper alternatives such as side-by-side vehicles (SSVs). The prospect of safer quads may help to buoy sales for manufacturers who take steps to improve their products.

The NFF will continue to fight for safer farms and communities. We will not accept vested interests dictating complacency when all the evidence says that these changes are necessary.

We call on the Morrison Government to implement the ACCC’s recommendations as soon as practicable. Doing so will save lives, it is as simple as that.

Charles Armstrong

Charles Armstrong

Charles Armstrong is the Chair of Farmsafe Australia, the Chair of NFF’s Workforce Committee, a farmer and a tireless campaigner for improved quad bike safety.

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