The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark

2014.5-SprtsmnAce4x4-White_f3qThe 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.

Kevin Jones

Amended 28 January 2014 refer comment below

13 thoughts on “The safety features of the new Polaris set a new benchmark”

  1. I only discovered this ‘thread’ last week when Googling to see where we could get hold of (another) Ace…

    We only discovered the Ace in 2018, having by chance seen one at dealer when we were looking at kids’ bikes. We bought one and found it to be an ideal vehicle for mustering. I really can’t emphasise how mission-perfect it is. We then bought a second in 2019 and it was just last week we found-out that the Ace has been discontinued, so have added to our little fleet one of the few remaining new ones in NSW.

    I understand that on particular types of farm (particularly smaller ones), people will want to use one vehicle for all missions. But in a bigger enterprise, the Ace (for us) perfectly fits the void between a motorbike and a full-sized 4WD. It’s narrower than a SxS, can turn at least as well as a quad, and you don’t need to be always looking-out for logs and holes and needn’t worry about being knocked-over by a beast. The places these things can go, in (relative) safety, needs to be seen to be believed.

    We’ll lovingly maintain the three we have, hoping that market forces see the re-introduction of something similar before too long.

  2. While I\’m no expert on safety and my experience is anecdotal at best, as an owner of an Ace I can provide some real world insights. The side nets, are not that much of a pain to open and close. Additionally there are hard doors (both full and half) that can be purchased. They are clearly not designed to keep a rider in who\’s not wearing a seatbelt. Short of driving the Ace on and off the trailer wearing a seatbelt should be a given (of course so should a helmet, but we all know how that goes).

    The Ace really is not marketed for work or industry. As others have pointed out, it\’s storage is weak at best. However it can pull 1500 lbs and has numerous hitch accessories. Additionally there are plow blades available as well. I think for this light duty work the Ace will do very well. It has a lot of low end torque. Again there are better machines better suited for the job but if you are looking for a 70/30 or 80/20 (recreation to work) machine the Ace will certainly work well.

    Another consideration is comfort. A number of Ace riders are older riders who\’s bodies just aren\’t up to the beating a regular ATV/Quad will give them.

    The 50 inch wheel base, with the ROPS is a bit tippy. I dumped my Ace over within 5 minutes of riding it for the first time. I\’ve since learned how to ride it and I don\’t have problems any more. I\’d much rather tip over in an Ace than a standard quad.

    That said, I have purchased a four point harness for my riding, but I like to jump sand dunes and other things that the manual says not to do.

    Quite honestly if I was looking for a Polaris for work it would without a question be a Ranger and I\’d leave the Ace for having fun on the trails or dunes.

  3. WE\’VE had ATV, UTV, even SSV. So what about the WTF?

    One cheeky wag contacted Back Paddock and made the suggestion after it was reported last week the peak motorcycle body won\’t classify the new Polaris Ace as an ATV.

    Instead, the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries has decided it will be classified as a two-person side-by-side vehicle.

    Which is no mean feat, considering the Ace is single-person vehicle.

    So our man suggested that what better acronym to reflect the confusion than WTF?

  4. I would like to make several points about this article. First point is the difference between an ATV which is a 3 or 4 wheeled vehicle that is ridden like a motorcycle and steered with handlebars and a UTV which is 4 wheeled vehicle that has a steering wheel, seat belts and in many cases side by side seating. The Polaris shown above is a UTV, or as Polaris describes it an “off-road vehicle. Two totally different machines.UTVs are much more stable than ATVs (quad bikes) and offer much more protection to occupants because of the roll over protection found on most of them.

    There have been various models of UTVs available from several manufacturers in North America for a number of years. While the Polaris model shown above is designed for recreation there are models that are designed for work or accessories that would allow them to be used for many tasks. In looking for information I found the TomCar which is an Australian designed utility vehicle that is similar to the Polaris but appears designed primarily for work rather than recreation, Why hasn’t it been seen as a safer machine for work use than quad bikes?

    John pointed out that 75% of ATVs in US are used for recreation, however with more than 7 million of them in use that still means that at least 2.2 million are used for work related activities. Figures I could find for Australia suggest that there might be a 1/2 million in use for both work and recreation.

    A presentation on ATV safety also gives numbers of ATV fatalities in USA (2000-2007) 4518 and Australia (2001-2010) 127. however in the USA only 869 of the fatalities were farm related while 83 in Australia were, a much larger percentage.

    Perhaps the the fact that in Australia quad bikes are being used for tasks that they were never intended for is contributing to for the number of fatalities in farm operations. The suggestion that seat belts are an inconvenience that farmers cannot put up with suggests a problem as well, if quad bikes were to be equipped with ROPS then they would also be equipped with seat belts which would have to be used if the ROPS is to protect the rider.

    Unsafe operation of ATVs also contributes to many of the injuries and fatalities suffered by users. Whether it is a youngster operating an ATV that is to large for them or an operator travelling at to high a speed for the terrain or attempting to operate the machine on slopes that are too steep for safety or carrying loads that affect the stability of the machine are all too often contributing factors in ATV accidents.

    Perhaps quad bikes should be equipped with ROPS or perhaps we should be looking at safer and more suitable vehicles for certain work tasks.

    1. What is your opinión about automatic ROPS? They do not interfere in daily use, keep cdg low and expand when rollover cannot be avoided, providing full rollover protection

  5. The Weekly Times\’ follow up article on the Sportsman Ace is available online

    Ed Gannon adds some useful information:
    Polaris is not a member of the FCAI.
    Polaris has increased its production target of the Sportsman Ace.
    The collective term \”quad bike\” could remove the semantic distinction.

  6. For once, Kevin, I disagree with you. This bike does not offer the same functionality for all the reasons John Lambert outlined.

    The big one is the fact that you need to climb in and out of a bucket seat and be meticulous with the seat belt.This does not suit any style of farming where you have to get on and off dozens of times a day.

    It also makes it incredibly difficult to get jobs done if you can\’t bring tools with you.

    This lack of functionality is no different than controls on a piece of industrial machinery that don\’t allow for maintenance and therefore invite users to bypass safeguards, rendering them useless.

  7. I have been contacted by the FCAI this morning about the article above. They point out that Polaris\’ media release does not describe the Sportsman Ace model as an All Terrain Vehicle. Re-reading the media release issued by Polaris, the FCAI is correct and the incorrect text has been removed from the blog article.

    It may be necessary to accept that the Sportsman Ace is neither an ATV or a UTV but a hybrid. It could also be considered to be a \”reconfigured quad bike\” as one person told SafetyAtWorkBlog.

    I see some of the discussion as convenient semantics, others see the difference between ATV, UTV and this new model as vital point of difference. What this blog has tried to do throughout the many years of the quad bike safety debate is focus on the issue of Safety. We look for the options that provide the greatest degree of harm prevention without impeding the use and functionality of a vehicle or article of plant.

    The Polaris Sportsman Ace remains an example of how improved safety can be designed into a vehicle that has much of the same functionality and, indeed, the same \”footprint\” as a quad bike. For years, in Australia, the manufacturers resisted this safety-in-design option, emphasising the need for helmets, better rider education and other low-order administrative controls. The Sportsman Ace shows that redesign was always possible.

    The manufacturers can, and probably will, continue to hold to their long-established position on ATV safety but the Sportsman Ace is a \”gamechanger\” in terms of safety and the reduction of harm to drivers. When it comes time to upgrade a quad bike, this sort of hybrid quad bike should be first choice.

  8. In USA 75% of ATV (their preferred description) is recreational. In Australia 80% of quad bike use is in a work place utilising utility style quad bikes.
    The Sportsman Ace is a recreation vehicle and is unsuited for workplaces: It has no front cargo rack, only a front storage boxe, and the rear storage space is severely constrained (could not carry a bale of hay) – it has a rear storage box. Ingress and egress is slow because of the need to apply seat belts and side nets (this writer believes the catch for these nets will fail under a heavy load such as an unrestrained rider). The track width is the same as for other quad bikes and with the ROPS these units will have a significant likelihood of rollover. While the wheelbase is at the upper range of quad bike lengths (which is good to resist tipover) there is no facility for a rider to stand and lean over the dash to get up and over a short bank more safely.
    And it is heavy with a dry weight of 379 kg and a fuel plus oil and water would increase that to over 400 kg.
    It is an unfortunate fact of life that in an non-enforced environment the wearing of helmets and seat belts is low (in OECD countries where bicycle helmets are required but this is not enforced wearing rates are in the range of 10% – 35%; and with tractors seatbelt wearing rates are around 30%). Polaris should recognise this fact of life! And where seatbelts are not worn the ROPS will cause many injuries even though it may reduce deaths due to asphyxiation.

    1. John, I acknowledge your expertise and research in this area but I can\’t help thinking that work-related accessories will come for this model. It seems that there is little room to fix items to the unit but haven\’t some accessories contributed to incidents and rollovers in the past?

      I also would be interested in seeing interlocks with the seatbelts and perhaps other items a la forklifts. I realise these can be bypassed but they can also be used by those who choose to be safe.

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