Quad bike safety has been a high profile issue for many years – driven by the national reality that quad bike incidents are the leading cause of injury and death on Australian farms.
This year alone, there have been 4 deaths and 47 non-fatal injuries involving quad bikes on farms. At the heart of the issue are two core failures: lack of investment in farm safety and poor product design.
Some estimates suggest there are over 200,000 quad bikes on properties in Australia. When it comes to quad bike fatalities on-farm, approximately 70% involve rollovers, where the bike rolls and traps a person underneath. When that happens, chances of suffocation are high, especially out in the paddock with limited or no access to a phone. Even if others are around, they have about 5 minutes to free the person from under a vehicle weighing approximately 300+ kilograms.
The unacceptable number of rollovers is what sits beneath industry calls for safer quad bike design. Rollovers happen too frequently, and too easily. All it takes is a quick jerk of the handlebars sideways, or hitting a rock hidden in the grass at low speed.
Given how serious the consequences can be for riders, farmers, and communities, it’s hard to imagine how there can be such a current of resistance to improved stability and safer quad bike design.
Yet not only is there resistance, its force is growing with every coronial inquiry into quad bike-related deaths across Australia. In recent weeks, the quad bike industry has revved up its campaign to persuade quad bike users not to use rollover protection – including advertisements in rural papers under the mischievously named “atvsafety.com.au”. Manufacturers claim that crush protection devices are unsafe, unproven and even dangerous. These are outrageous claims.
These actions shine a poor light on the quad bike industry across Australia.Sarah McKinnon, NFF
Worse still, they are confounding for Australian farmers. In Victoria, farmers are now being told that if they fail to consider fitting a crush protection device, they may face prosecution and even jail time under Work Health and Safety laws. And yet at the same time, the quad bike industry is promoting its “Never Fit ROPS” logo, despite only earlier this year telling the National Farmers’ Federation it was shifting away from this approach.
The timing is no coincidence. Tasmania is about to launch its own coronial inquiry into quad bike safety after similar inquiries in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. In each case, Coroners made findings about quad bike design and encouraged manufacturers and regulators to do more to ensure safety of products on the market, in a bid to reduce unacceptable levels of injury and death.
That manufacturers have launched their own “5 star Safe ATV User Guide” it is also no coincidence – given national moves toward a 5-star ANCAP style ratings scheme for quads.
These actions shine a poor light on the quad bike industry across Australia. Farmers want, and value, vehicles that work well for them on the farm. What they don’t want is a million dollar prosecution driving them off the farm, because a quad bike rollover could have been prevented by measures including safer design.
It’s time for the manufacturers to stop waging war on Australian farmers and work toward delivery of safer products to market, not just because it’s what the law requires, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Sarah McKinnon is the NFF's General Manager for Workplace Relations & Legal Affairs