To OPD or not to OPD? That is NOT the question

The current debate and lobbying campaigns over quad bikes in Australia have become less about safety than about product design integrity. The opposition to operator protection devices (OPDs) has been so loud that it has dominated the quad bike safety discussion. So, last week I decided to visit a local quad bike dealer to talk to the sellers not about OPDs but about Safety. I found that some vehicles have safety integrated into their design and operation.

I have learnt that the best conversations happen during the weekdays when shop assistants and managers have the time to devote to someone who may be a potential buyer but is, at least, someone genuinely interested in the product, in this case quad bikes and side-by-side (SXS) work vehicles.

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Dirty tricks in quad bike debate

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This week an online entity has been establishing itself on various social media platforms as “Say No To OPDs”, “Ban The Bar” and combinations of those phrases. These sites are asking people to make submissions to the current inquiry into establishing a quad bike safety standard which is being managed through the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) at the instigation of the Federal Government. This is not an inquiry about quad bike safety; that occurred last year with the ACCC report handed down earlier this year. It is an inquiry about a specific element of safety but this has not stopped a coordinated online push to reject the ACCC’s broader safety and product design recommendations.

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Debate on rollover protection rolls on

The continuing argument over quad bike safety in Australia mirrors many of the other occupational health and safety (OHS) debates over whose evidence is truer, is the argument about politics or safety, the cost of change and whether one size of OHS laws and enforcement fits a splintering employment structure.

The Liberal National Coalition won the recent Federal Election in Australia, retaining power and with a stronger Parliamentary influence. In terms of quad bike safety, action on the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s report will follow the schedule set out by the then Assistant Treasurer Stuart Roberts. Several quad bike manufacturers and their industry lobbying arm, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), have ramped up the pressure on the Government now that they smell another three years of sympathetic government.

It is important to keep reminding ourselves that OHS, for most Australians, remains regulated at a State level and national positions and recommendations like that of the ACCC are unlikely to be implemented nationally without Federal laws.

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More voices raised about quad bike safety

According the Weekly Times newspaper on May 8 2019 (paywalled), Mojo Motorcycles remains committed to the Australian quad bike market. Polaris acknowledges that

“…. ATVs will go the way of the dodo.”

The Farmsafe and National Farmers Federation (NFF) Workforce Committee, Charles Armstrong, has, in Farmonline National, described the threats by Honda and Yamaha as

“….. an astonishingly infantile reaction from otherwise respected multinational companies.”

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Honda and Yamaha dig in over quad bike safety

“Just carrying on doing more reviews is not going to take us very far. We now have to make a start and that’s going to require legislation,”

These words were spoken by the head of the UK Competition and Markets Authority, Andrew Tyrie, but could easily have been a quote from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in relation to its recent review of the safety of quad bikes.

Improving the safety of quad bikes, or what used to be called All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) until everyone accepted that they don’t travel safely over all terrains, has been a contentious issue in Australia for well over a decade. The issue appears in the media regularly after each death or near miss involving a quad bike rider.

Last week the issue appeared in the media for a different reason. Yamaha and Honda have both advised their dealers that if the ACCC safety recommendations and safety standard become law, they will

“….. be force[d] to cease selling utility ATVs in Australia” (Yamaha)

“… withdraw from the ATV market in Australia.” (Honda)

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