The Weekly Times scored an exclusive this week about a new model of Polaris quad bike which incorporates a roll cage or rollover protection structure (ROPS) in its design. The significance of the Sportsman Ace is, according to the newspaper and the manufacturer, a “game changer” because it seems to counter the arguments of the quad bike manufacturers against such design changes in submissions to government and in public campaigns. They have stressed that more effective control of a quad bike comes from driver training and behaviour and that ROPs may itself contribute to driver injuries and deaths. The Polaris Sportsman Ace, to be released in the United States this week and Australia next month, seems to prove that quad bikes can be redesigned to include safety features, an action that manufacturers have been extremely reluctant to do.
A major critic of ROPs on quad bikes in Australia has been the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke to a spokesman for the FCAI who explained that the Polaris Sportsman Ace is not an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) but a UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle).
The difference is that an ATV is a “rider-active” vehicle where the UTV is a vehicle in which the rider is now a driver and does not need to shift balance to control the vehicle. This sounds like splitting hairs but there is some logic. The Sportsman Ace has a bucket seat, a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals, a seatbelt and side nets. It is more akin to a buggy or car than a motorbike. (The type of licence required in Australia to drive the vehicle remains unclear.)
FCAI stressed that the Sportsman Ace does not change the position taken by the FCAI as they assert it is not an ATV, that the critical safety message remains choosing the right tool for the job, that crush protection devices are still dangerous when installed on quad bikes and that even with side-by-side vehicles riders continue to ride contrary to the manufacturers’ guideline by not wearing helmets and use other safety devices.
The FCAI also said that there is no Australian Standard for quad bikes and side-by-sides and that the Recreational Off-Road Vehicle Association (ROHVA) standards, from the United States, should be applied. However, the debate in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere outside the US is less about the recreational use of these vehicles but about the use of quad bikes on workplaces under occupational health and safety laws. Workplaces apply a highly expectation of safety, duty of care and hazard control than would be applied to quad bike rallies, sporting events and other non-work activities. It is unlikely that ROHVA standards will be acceptable to the markets of Australia and New Zealand. A far better result would be for the development of a work-related ANZ Standard based on the extensive localised research into quad bike safety and the governmental support.
An infographic from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission seems to indicate that ATV use is predominantly recreational in the United States. The recreational use of the Sportsman Ace is clearly promoted in Polaris’ new video. (It made me desire one) Part of the concern in Australia has been the number of deaths and injuries in low-speed quad bike incidents on farms and on work activities. There is also some debate about how work accessories can vary the weight distribution on the quad bike.
SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted one of the Australian suppliers of Polaris vehicles and asked about the new model. The dealer said that on the day of the publication of The Weekly Times article – 22 January 2014, they participated in a teleconference about the model and were informed that everything about this model was supposed to be “hush-hush” until next month. There was an implication that the author of the article, Ed Gannon, had published the information earlier than expected. Ed Gannon told SafetyAtWorkBlog that he had a genuine exclusive and published accordingly. (Gannon is likely to write a followup article in next week’s edition of The Weekly Times now that Polaris has released a media statement and the FCAI is available for comment)
How the FCAI and local dealers respond to this “game changing” farm vehicle will be telling. Will they stick to semantics or acknowledge the potential of the new design? Soon, Safe Work Australia will release its finalised Code of Practice for Managing Risk of Plant in Rural Workplaces. SafetyAtWorkBlog believes that the Code will specifically mention the use of crush protection devices on quad bikes in a positive light and discuss the decreased safety risks of using side-by-side vehicles. The introduction of the Sportsman Ace may create confusion with the Code as the Code will likely be based on quad bikes of the traditional design, however most Codes are out of date in some way on the day of publication.
The Sportsman Ace seems to have addressed many of the concerns of the quad bike safety advocates by applying engineering controls, as the per the hierarchy of controls, to reduce risk. The roll cage may not reduce rollover risk by itself but it, and other devices, protect the rider, or driver (the term preferred by FCAI and supported by the configuration of driver controls) from harm. The seat type and seat belt secure the driver to remove the “activation” of quad bike riders, further increasing stability. Many of these changes were discussed by John Lambert in his November 2010 report.
But what this model also shows is that quad bikes can be redesigned on safety principles. The question that could be asked is why was it not done earlier.
Amended 28 January 2014 refer comment below