QUAD bike rider and all-terrain side-by-side vehicle (SSV) occupant safety is under scrutiny with a focus on design, stability and handling, particular in typical farm usage situations.
Users, manufacturers and sellers of the vehicles as well as farmer, recreational, safety and medical representative organisations – basically anyone with an interest – have five weeks to make submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC has investigated safety issues related to quad bikes and SSVs and concluded “the frequency and causes of quad bike-related deaths and injuries suggests that the current design of quad bikes sold in Australia does not ensure an appropriate level of safety”.
All of the quad bikes or SSVs sold in Australia are imported and there is no design standard they are required to meet as a pre-condition to being sold, the ACCC said.
Their design, particularly of “utility” quad bikes most likely to be used in farming or forestry applications, did not adequately address “risks associated with the foreseeable use and misuse of these vehicles”, it said.
It pointed out quad bike and SSV accidents were the leading cause of accidental death and serious injury on farms.
Last week the ACCC released an impact statement outlining five options and called for submissions on them by Friday, May 4.
One option is to do nothing.
The remainder propose progressively more complex mandatory safety and stability performance requirements for quad bikes and SSVs.
These include adopting American safety standards applying to 2019 models, plus introduction of a safety star rating to help consumers choose between models.
Also proposed are integrated operator protection devices, like crush protection and roll bars, and drive systems which allow wheels to rotate at different speeds with the option of a rider-controlled differential lock, along with performance tests for dynamic handling and stability.
The ACCC said it favoured all four proposals for improvements being incorporating into a safety standard to be included in Australian consumer law.
It also advocated complementary regulatory measures “as part of a holistic approach to mitigate the safety risks of quad bikes and SSVs”, including banning children from operating adult quad bikes and SSVs and mandating wearing of personal protection equipment like helmets, be considered.
But it will review submissions before making final recommendations to assistant minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar MP, mid year.
The ACCC acknowledged State governments – other than WA – and the Federal government previously had attempted to alleviate quad bike and SSV safety risks, but generally these initiatives had related to public danger-awareness education and subsidised operator training courses.
It also acknowledged the better safety record of SSVs and, with wider track, relatively lower centre of gravity, generally longer wheelbase and more common standard roll-over protection, greater stability and occupant safety particularly when travelling across slopes, compared to quad bikes.
But farming applications often involved quad bikes and SSVs carrying loads like hay bales or liquids in spray tanks which significantly altered their centre of gravity and handling characteristics, the ACCC noted.
A large proportion of the estimated 190,000 quad bikes in Australia – about 76 per cent are general-use models – were used on farms or in rural areas, whether they were being operated as part of an agricultural or forestry enterprise or for recreational purposes, it noted.
“For many farmers, quad bikes and SSVs are affordable and used almost every day for weed spraying and checking livestock and fences,” the ACCC said in its impact statement.
“Manufacturers are well placed to consider the hazards posed by quad bikes in the design stage and could act to ensure quad bikes are safe to operate in reasonably foreseeable circumstances.
“It is the view of the ACCC that the current safety related design features of quad bikes, particularly those marketed as general-use model quad bikes, do not adequately address reasonably foreseeable use and misuse in the Australian environment.
“For example, farmers operating quad bikes while spraying weeds – an activity widely undertaken using quad bikes – may have their attention shared between operating the vehicle and weed spraying and may be less likely to observe a rock or branch in the grass that could trigger a rollover if impacted.
“Such an event may result in a death.”
According to the impact statement, quad bike and SSV-related deaths have cost the Australian economy an estimated $208.1 million.
From 2011 to 2017 there were 114 deaths in Australia – an average of 16 a year – attributed to quad bikes and four attributed to SSVs, the ACCC said.
Of the quad bike deaths 17 were children under 16 and two of the SSV deaths were children under 10.
Between 2100 and 2500 injuries were recorded by hospital emergency departments and more than 650 hospitalisations every year across Australia as a result of quad bike and SSV-related injuries.
Significantly, the ACCC said, deaths frequently involved adults aged between 46 and 75 operating a general-use model quad bike on an incline on a farm or rural property and having it roll over.
Rollovers accounted for about half the deaths involving general-use model quad bikes, with the operator pinned underneath and crush asphyxiation identified as one of the major causes of death.
Almost half of the deaths occurred during work-related activities and the 54 workers who died were almost exclusively employed in agriculture or rural based businesses, and incidents occurred mostly on rural properties, the ACCC said.
Many of the non-work related deaths also occurred on rural properties, it said.
The ACCC released an issues paper on quad bike safety in November 2017 and received 56 submissions from a range of stakeholders, including industry representative bodies, quad bike manufacturers and retailers, individual farmers and consumers, academics, hospitals and health professionals, quad bike tourism operators and government agencies.
Of those, 77pc supported introduction of a safety standard of some kind, it said.
The National Farmers Federation was one group supporting a comprehensive strategy to improve quad bike safety, including fitting crush protection and a safety star rating system, the ACCC said.
For information on the options proposed and to make a submission go online to consultation.accc.gov.au.