IN 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) introduced a mandatory safety standard for quad bikes (ATVs), including the compulsory fitting of operator protection devices (OPDS) on all new quad bikes at the point of sale.
The new safety requirements come into place in October 2021, and they’re supported by organisations like the National Farmers Federation, Australian Medical Association, Royal College of Surgeons, Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Royal Flying Doctor Service, National Rural Health Alliance, National Rural Women’s Coalition, Country Women’s Association of Australia, and the Australian Workers Union, amongst others.
However, they have drawn criticism from other groups, including quad bike manufacturers, who say that there isn’t enough evidence to back up the safety claims of OPDS.
Because of this, three of the biggest and most popular manufacturers, Honda, Yamaha and Polaris, are all pulling out of the Australian quad bike market from next year.
“There is no doubt these multinationals have done well out of Australian farmers for many years. Despite this, they aren’t prepared to wear the extra cost of adding OPDs to all new quad bikes, in the interests of saving farmers’ lives,” said National Farmers Federation (NFF) chief executive officer, Tony Mahar.
“To be blunt – it’s shameful. There are about 15 deaths per year attributed to quad bikes, and over 650 hospitalisations. An estimated six people per day attend emergency departments due to quad bike accidents. While the personal cost is unquantifiable, the cost to the national economy is estimated at $208.1 million per year.”
The impact on Coonamble retailers
Stephen Glover manages Glovers mechanical retailer in Coonamble, and says the major brands pulling out of the market is not a surprise.
“It’s disappointing they’ve chosen that route,” Mr Glover said.
“But our market is only 0.5 percent of the world market and manufacturers are not going to change their design just for our small market.”
Glovers are making their final purchase of quad bikes at the end of July, for supply between December and May.
Mr Glover says that major quad bike brands being effectively removed from the Australian market will affect the business ‘quite dramatically.’
“It’s not ideal for us, it’s meant a big downturn in our trading because quad bikes are good sellers for us,” he said.
“Everybody needs them on farms to do stock work, so it’s going to be a big downturn in the future.”
Safety precautions will save lives, says the RDAA
Dr John Hall, President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA), said that fitting Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) will save lives.
“Anyone who lives in the bush knows somebody that has either been injured, killed or had a near miss on a quad bike,” he said.
“They are incredibly useful on the farm, but also so, so dangerous.”
Dr Hall says that just because manufacturers are ‘having a tantrum’ and pulling out of the Australian market, it’s no reason to compromise on the requirements.
“Farming is a risky enough occupation as it is, and the idea that making one of the most commonly used farm vehicles, that are well known to be dangerous, more safe is a bad idea? Well it’s patently ridiculous,” Dr Hall said.
“There are six visits to an emergency department every day due to quad bike accidents. That’s six EVERY DAY.
“No injury or fatality has ever been attributed to an OPD, and of all the fatalities that have occurred on quad bikes over the past 20 years, which is 267, only one of these had an OPD fitted.”
However, some people argue that the problem doesn’t lie with the quad bikes, but with the way they’re used.
“There’s been a few accidents relating to quad bikes around Coonamble but a lot of it is the way they’re ridden,” said Mr Glover.
“A lot comes down to responsibility of the rider. Most farmers are pretty careful and do the right thing and ride them to the conditions.”
There are alternatives to quad bikes, but they’re not ideal for many consumers.
According to Mr Glover, side-by-side utility vehicles are the next best option for farmers, however they cost between $15,000 and $33,000 for a Honda model, as opposed to the $8,000 to $16,000 you might spend on a Honda quad bike.
“The safety of side-by-sides is a lot better – they have roll protection and seatbelts – but it will still be the responsibility of owner to use them safely, they’re not a toy either,” Mr Glover said.
“99% of people I’ve spoken to are not in favour of side-by-sides, they still want to use quad bikes because it’s more manoeuvrable for stock work and can move around trees easier. The side by side won’t be as versatile in that aspect of the farming business.”
The bigger manufacturers moving out of the market is also an opportunity for smaller, less well-known brands to capture the Australian market; major manufacturer CFMoto have already released a quad bike model that complies with Australian safety standards.
The impact on local farmers
Local farmer Ron Mackay uses quad bikes on a regular basis, particularly for stock work, and has had the bikes on his property fitted with OPDs.
“We installed them to keep ourselves covered in case we were employing someone and they had an accident on one,” Mr Mackay said.
“The design of the rollover bar we have is a bit noisy, they rattle which is a little bit annoying if you’re doing mustering work, but you can buy other versions which can be a bit quieter.”
A NSW Workcover subsidy helped cover some of the fitting costs for the Mackays, and he says it’s just further incentive for farmers to get at least some of their bikes fitted with the safety devices.
Like Mr Glover, Mr Mackay believes that the way quad bikes are ridden is the bigger issue, rather than the safety of the bikes themselves.
“I tend to think, particularly in the more western regions, some of the more serious accidents tend to point to them being used as toys or recreational vehicles,” he said.
“That doesn’t take away from the tragedy of it of course, but I think with children involved, a lot of time they’ve been allowed to hoon around on them, not being supervised properly, if at all.”
Despite this, Mr Mackay said he thinks the safety measures will have a positive impact.
“If the legislation is going to save injury and lives, it has to be a good thing.”