Controversial national quad bike safety standards aimed at reducing Australia’s stubbornly high death toll will take effect on Monday.
- It will soon be illegal to sell a new quad bike unless a rollover protection device is fitted
- A record 20 Australians were killed in quad bike accidents in 2020
- Quad bike sales have boomed as farmers try to beat the October 11 deadline
From October 11, it will be illegal to sell a new quad bike unless a rollover protection device is fitted.
Introduced into Australia in the mid 1980s, quads are a cheap, manoeuvrable and powerful mode of transport farmers use to tow, carry and muster.
Accident statistics reveal this indispensable farm workhorse has a dark downside.
Despite countless safety campaigns aimed at improving rider behaviour, a record 20 Australians were killed in quad bike accidents last year.
Three quarters of the deaths were on farms.
Around 1,000 people are injured each year, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) estimating the cost to the economy is a staggering $200 million annually, without factoring in pain, suffering and grief.
Introducing new safety laws
The new laws have been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), which has pushed for tougher safety standards for many years.
“We had to keep being strong for our industry to protect as many people as we could because we were killing way too many … with children and people over 65 over-represented in those numbers,” former NFF president Brent Finlay said.
There was pushback from some members with quad safety one of the most divisive issues during Mr Finlay’s presidency between 2013 and 2016.
“I got very direct and clear feedback from people saying ‘good on you, we’ve got to do something’, but there were also plenty of others saying the NFF had rolled over again or ‘you’re giving all our rights away’, but this was about protecting people,” he said.
The new rules were recommended by the ACCC after a two-year investigation at the behest of the federal government.
The federal government introduced stage one of the ACCC’s recommendations in October 2020.
Quads had to meet the US or European safety standards and, to guide buyers, tags showing what angle they tipped onto two wheels had to be displayed.
Suppliers were given a 12-month transition period for stage two, which from October 11 mandates quads must meet minimum stability guidelines and be fitted with rollover protection devices.
The ACCC’s Mick Keogh said “60 per cent of quad bike fatalities are caused by rollovers and the operator dies from asphyxia in around half of these”.
“The additional safety requirements about to come into force … will mitigate rollover risks.”
While the ACCC report found quad bikes were inherently unstable, Dalby-based bike dealer Craig Hartley blamed the death and accident toll on rider behaviour.
Mr Hartley set up the Save The Quad Bike Australia Facebook page and a petition calling for the laws to be reversed.
Twenty-eight thousand people have signed, and he would not stop lobbying for the laws to be changed.
“There’s not another machine on the farm that will do the job the quad does,” Mr Hartley said.
“There’s nothing that will replace it. Everything about losing quad bikes is a complete and utter negative for rural Australia.”
‘Panic buying’ ahead of new rules
Quad sales have boomed as farmers try to beat the October 11 deadline.
“Panic buying’s happened like we’ve never seen before, we’ve just recorded our largest turnover ever, and I know just about every other motorcycle dealer in Australia has as well,” Mr Hartley said.
“There’s a lot of people that have bought eight, four, six as they just can’t see them running their farm without them, simple as that,” he said.
Queensland workplace safety inspector Scott Munro has cautioned farmers they could be in a precarious legal position if a worker died driving a machine without rollover protection.
“When we attend farms or workplaces … the question [that] will be asked is, ‘Why are you purchasing equipment that doesn’t meet the standard?'” he said.
“It certainly would be a matter that would be tested.”
Mr Finlay warned farmers could be fined under industrial manslaughter laws.
Six major brands have refused to comply with the new rules and have withdrawn quads from the Australian market, but other lesser-known brands will comply and are still available.
“They really don’t believe that by putting an intrusion on it’s going to actually save lives. The manufacturers have said ‘no these machines aren’t fit for that purpose’,” Mr Hartley said.