Safety laws create bitter-sweet future for quad bikes

Quad bike suppliers are pulling out of Australia in the lead-up to new safety legislation coming into effect, but farmers and graziers are divided on the measures.

Mar 16, 2020, updated Mar 16, 2020
Quad bike manufacturers are exiting the Australian industry over safety laws, leaving primary producers divided. Photo: ABC

Quad bike manufacturers are exiting the Australian industry over safety laws, leaving primary producers divided. Photo: ABC

For primary producers who have lost loved ones in quad-bike accidents, the current situation is complicated.

The conflict lies between providing a safe workplace and the essential role of the vehicles.

Farmer and grazier Warren Jonsson from Ravenshoe in far north Queensland tragically lost his father in a quad-bike rollover in the late 1990s.

“He was just checking fences and went up an embankment,” he said.

“The bike rolled on him and killed him,” Jonsson said.

The accident has changed the family’s attitude to safety and employee wellbeing in their business.

Jonsson accepts that a roll bar might have saved his father’s life, and he has fitted them on some of his fleet of eight ATVs.

But he said the new mandatory factory-fitted roll bars had led to big manufacturers exiting the Australian market.

“They’ve got to modify their whole production line just to suit probably 2 per cent of the market,” he said.

“They’ve opted to not send quads to Australia; they said 12 months ago they’d pull out, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Jonsson said the onus needed to be on operators and employers to provide a safe workplace.

“There’s got to be some waiver where you can put an aftermarket structure, roll bar on the bikes,” he said.

“People have got to be a bit accountable for their own doings.”

‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire’

Barcaldine grazier David Counsell said he was not surprised by the industry move, but admitted the safety measures were necessary.

“They’re in some cases a necessary farm vehicle, but they’ve got a terrible track record for safety,” he said.

“There’s a significant liability there … big companies look at their risk and make according decisions.”

He said he only used his quad bike a couple of days a year, mainly in wet conditions.

“When I’ve really got to go down and have a look along a boggy creek for bogged sheep or something like that, I’m inherently aware of the risks this vehicle presents,” he said.

Counsell said there had been fatalities in the region and everyone he had spoken to had a story about the dangers they presented.

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” he said.

“It’s not just the fatalities; there’s a lot of situations where people end up in hospitals or really close calls.”

Exiting the Australian industry

Supplier Polaris has confirmed it will stop selling quad bikes and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) in the Australian market this year.

Honda criticised the legislation and said it would force them to do the same in 2021, when the laws took full effect.

Polaris Australia and New Zealand managing director Alan Collins said the decision was largely due to changes in sales.

“The market is moving very quickly form ATV to side-by-side products anyway,” he said.

“It’s a much better fit for us going forward to bite the bullet sooner rather than later.”

However, he said, it was not about the cost of fitting rollover safety measures.

“We actually believe they cause as many injuries as they save,” he said.

“There’s no reliable science or data or evidence that we’ve seen that actually demonstrates that these devices offer any inherent safety value at all.”

Mandated safety standards

In October 2019, the Federal Government gave quad bike manufacturers two years to comply with new rollover protection legislation.

The safety standards required that manufacturers affix rollover safety stickers to new quad bikes within 12 months and install roll-over bars as standard within 24 months.

Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the Government had noted Polaris’s exit and welcomed the company’s commitment to ongoing ATV support for the next decade.

“The Government is committed to improving the safety of quad bikes with the introduction of a new safety standard to protect the community,” he said in a written statement.

Mr Sukkar said since 2011 an average 16 people a year had died and about six people a day had been hospitalised because of quad bike crashes.

– ABC / Damien Larkins, Tom Major and Dan Prosser

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