The world looks to Australia for quad bike safety changes

On 19 October 2012 in a video address to an Australian forum on quad bike safety, the US Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Robert Adler stated

“We at the US CPSC are monitoring your activities closely with the hope that what you learn can help us back here in the United States.”

That places considerable attention on the safety initiatives and negotiations in Australia but also may indicate that the United States is struggling to achieve change in this area.

On October 17 2012, the Weekly Times devoted its front page, a double page spread and its editorial to the safety of quad bikes, or All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).   The editorial called  on the Government to

“…mandate all ATVs are fitted with roll-over protection ..[and to] provide a rebate to allow retro-fitting of roll-over protection to existing ATVs.”

ABC News provided an excellent summary of the issues associated with quad bike safety in its news report on 17 October 2011 and showed some scary images of young children riding quad bikes.

Following the forum, Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten issued a media statement outlining to the outcomes.  It stated:

“The Minister said he has asked Safe Work Australia to report on the key findings of the quad bike issues paper and today’s forum, and that he would direct Comcare*, the Commonwealth workplace safety regulator, to immediately implement the following:

  • Comcare will work with scheme employers to review their use of quad bikes and consider possible substitution with less hazardous equipment.
  • Comcare will initiate a program to retro-fit crush protection devices for bikes used by federal employers, along with rider training.
  • Comcare will also work with other regulators to sponsor the development of a technical standard to underpin the design, manufacture, testing and installation of crush protection devices for quad bikes during manufacture or for after-market applications.”

Quad bike manufacturers, who attended the Minister’s meeting, are still resisting the use of crush protection devices (CPDs) but seem to have no response to the important point made by the Minister:

“Years of warnings, extra training and recommendations for helmet use had failed to reduce the death and injury rate.”

Manufacturers may argue that this is due to riders not following manufacturers’ recommendations but this has not been helped by the promotion of a dogmatic resistance to change by the manufacturers and their industry representatives.  Many other vehicles and devices have undergone change to address real and perceived safety risks in order to sell safer products and address customer concerns.  Quad bike manufacturers have dug in on the issue and refuse to compromise.  That is their right, in one sense, but it makes it difficult to then complain if the government, who has a responsibility on public safety, introduces safety regulations to minimise harm and fatalities.  A comparison with the way automotive manufacturers have upgraded safety features is enlightening and this is decades since Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at any Speed“.

The manufacturers’ response is difficult to maintain when farming associations, the representatives of the major quad bike customers, are beginning to accept the need for improved safety, even though they may complain about potential cost. The president of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (which also had a representative at the forum), Peter Tuohey, said on 18 October 2012.:

“The reality is we need decent research to determine once and for all the value of crush protection and other roll-over protection structures on Quad bikes, plus a decent national strategy on the issue…I understand the NSW Government has initiated such research.”

The National Farmers’ Federation’s workplace relations committee chairman Charlie Armstrong is reported as saying, on the matter of CPDs:

“We’re trying to persuade the manufacturers to either supply them at the point of sale or fit them beforehand. But if that’s not going to happen then we will go to government to mandate some form of requirement for manufacturers to fit them, or some form of incentive scheme for farmers to fit them, particularly on bikes that are already in use…”

The unions and safety researchers would argue that interim safety measures can be introduced pending additional research and would likely use the issues of asbestos and mesothelioma as an example.  Once a control measure exists, every death that could have been prevented by that device will raise serious questions  to the manufacturers and governments from grieving relatives.


SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the forum had a friendly tone for most of the time but towards the end, when there was open discussion, the atmosphere became tense with some clear and robust language used.  According to a running sheet, the questions, reflective of the Government’s issues paper, posed in the open discussion were

  • “What design solutions and/or engineering controls could improve quad bike stability and safety?
  • What engineering controls could improve operator protection in the event of a roll over?
  • What engineering options could minimise the capacity of children to start and/or operate quad bikes?
  • What engineering controls could minimise the capacity of a quad bike to carry passengers?”

Apparently an analysis of the submission received on the issues paper was presented and, according to one participant, the major points were that:

  • “Support for greater stability and roll over protection is emphatic
  • Industry Representatives and Manufacturers are emphatically against any engineering improvements.
  • Agricultural Organisations, regulators and insurers and researchers are emphatically for engineering improvements”.

The challenge for the future, or “battle lines”, are clear.

The same running sheet listed the following speakers:

The Minister stressed that the forum was not the end of the safety deliberations but it is difficult to see any sustainable progress without the manufacturers compromising, even just a little.  The forum indicates that the Australian Government is prepared to apply “soft” regulation in this safety area and the risk for manufacturers is that without compromise, “hard” regulations will come.  That option is likely to raise accusations of “nanny state”, as all new business and safety-related regulations do but manufacturers have the chance to avoid these soft and hard regulations through compromise.

The longer quad bike manufacturers take to address the real and perceived shortcomings of their products, the more families and relatives will point to them with accusations of “killing machines”.  Allowing that to happen seems a shortsighted marketing strategy and they need to remember that the world is watching.

Kevin Jones

*Comcare issued a safety alert on quad bikes in early 2010.

reservoir, victoria, australia

8 thoughts on “The world looks to Australia for quad bike safety changes”

  1. As a user of ATV\’s (3 Wheelers) and Quad bikes since their inception for some 35 years I must agree with Merv, I have also taught all my children to operate these machines responsibly giving them a high degree of respect driving motor vehicles on the roads now. No matter how safe a quad bike is made some one will inevitably be fatally injured due to their own lack of safety responsibility. Whilst these CPD\’s may assist in a sideways rollover they could prove to be fatal in a forwards rollover (end for end). Authorities can lay blame on the manufacturers but ultimately the responsibility has and always will remain with the user

  2. If an accident occurs whilst operating a quad bike and the machine is not found to be faulty it’s a direct reflection upon the users ability, not the machine. J WILSON.

  3. Hello John

    Thank you for the courtesy of a robust reply.

    I must dispute the claim that \”Data says most deaths and serious injuries in the workplace occur while the quad bike is being driven responsibly\” . If the quad is being driven or used responsibly, that is within the parameters of its design and performance specifications, how can any accident or injury occur that is casued by the quad?

    Spray tanks – providing that one counterbalances both front and back, and one does not try to fit a 150ft boom to the quad, and uses materials and tanks whose combined weight come within the manufacturers design specification, then again how can the quad cause an accident?

    The camels won because I was behaving like a farmer.

  4. Hi Merv
    THe trouble with any very low frequency event is that we can assume we are safe riders when in fact we\’ve just been lucky. Data says most deaths and serious injuries in the workplace occur while the quad bike is being driven responsibly.

    The average frequency of a loss of control event – a situation where a rider leaves the quad bike – is around one in every six years of use. And research suggests that in 75% to 80% of these loss of control events, there is no injury – as a result the chance of being injured is around once in every 25 years of use. And half of these injuries are severe enough to require radical attention – once in 50 years of use. As for a serious injury – an injury so severe you are admitted to hospital – the risk is once in 1000 years of use. And the risk of being killed is around once in 10,000 years of use.

    The key point to note is that if you are unlucky enough to have a quad bike rollover and end up on top of you, and the quad bike has no crush protection device, there is a significant chance that you will die.

    There are indications that some quad bike activities are significantly more dangerous than others. For example, my research\’s suggests that with spray tanks mounted on the quad bike, the increase in risk is of the order of six times. And mustering also appears to be a risky activity – perhaps that\’s why the camels won

  5. I daresay a healthy dose of reality check is required in this debate.

    For the record, I have owned, operated and enjoyed quad bikes for over 30 years. I live in a farming community in the central eastern wheatbelt of WA.

    I have mustered sheep, cattle and even wild goats successfully and safely on a quad.

    I can tell you that they are NOT designed for chasing feral camels through the bush! Camels 1 Merv 0.

    I have taught my children to drive on a quad, which has afforded them an invaluable opportuity of growth and self esteem.

    Would any of the interested and vocal proponents of engineering change to these machines please show me, in clear and empirical fact, how altering the design and engineering of these machines will positively affect the culture of the farmer that operates them?

    Respectfully, whilst any injury and fatality is a tragedy, and whilst it makes sense to adjust and redesign anything to be safer to use, equally the human component must accept responsibility and adjustment.

    When one considers the FACTS of high fatalities in agriculture compared to the low numbers of workers and the low number of working hours, surely even Blind Freddy can see the issue is with the Farmers, not the machines?

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