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Wheel spin: ACCC calls out 'nonsense' around killer quad bikes

Statewide

Half of Australia’s deaths from quad bike accidents this year have occurred in Queensland, earning manufacturers of the farm machines a sharp rebuke from ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.

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In the first six months of 2020, 14 people, including three children, have died in quad bike-related accidents in Australia, compared to eight in the whole of last year. Seven of this year’s fatalities have been in Queensland.

The dramatic death toll rise comes as overseas manufacturers of the bikes threaten to withdraw from the Australian market in response to new Australian Government quad bike safety standards that take effect from October 11.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Mick Keogh said the rise in fatalities was “incredibly concerning”, highlighting the importance of the new safety standard.

“For many years, manufacturers have been claiming rider behaviour is the major reason for the number of deaths and injuries. Their aim has been to shift the focus away from the unsafe design of quad bikes,” he said.

“The truth of the matter is, the inherent instability of quad bikes causes them to frequently roll over. It has been reported that at least eight of the fatalities so far this year involved rollovers, with four of them resulting in crush injuries.”

As reported by InQueensland in June, when the Queensland death toll stood at five, the design limitations of quad bikes mean many people – including experienced, mature operators – are getting seriously injured or killed, despite operating them in line with the vehicles’ marketed uses.

Research from the University of New South Wales led by Professor Tony Lower, indicates that almost half of quad bike accidents involved riders who had 20 or more years of experience operating them, while less than two per cent of accidents involved an operator with less than three years’ experience.

As Lower explained to InQueensland, the threatened retreat by quad bike makers such as Honda, Yamaha and Polaris had nothing to do with controlling costs and improving safety, but everything to do with denying their bikes were unsafe to avoid litigation in their overseas markets, particularly in the highly litigious United States.

“Ultimately what those companies do with their machines is their decision, but if they were serious about safety, they could comply with the new regulations tomorrow if they wanted to,” he said in June.

“It’s got nothing to do with the product, market conditions or safety here, it’s about setting a precedent where this could be used against them in the US where that country still records anywhere between 500-600 deaths from quad bikes per year.”

Campaign to escalate

Keogh believes that as October 11 draws closer, misinformation and scare campaigns from groups opposed to the new safety standard will ramp up.

“Top of the list is the suggestion that because some quad bike manufacturers have threatened to stop selling in Australia due to the new safety requirements, farmers will lose a critical piece of farm machinery,” he said.

“If a manufacturer withdraws from Australia, others will willingly step in to provide the safer quad bikes.”

“We’ve also heard nonsense claims that improved quad bike stability and rollover protection devices, as required under the safety standard, will increase fatalities as riders will have a false sense of security.

“If this argument was applied to the design of cars, none of the modern safety features would be available, and the nearly 70 per cent decline in road fatalities since the mid-1970s would not have occurred.

“Of course, it is important to always ride safely but the new safety measures will go a long way to reducing deaths as they are designed to reduce the frequency and impact of quad bike rollovers.

“Federal and state governments have spent significant money on education campaigns, training, rebate schemes, and Honda and Yamaha also provide accredited training courses.

“Yet, quad-bike fatalities continue to occur at an unacceptable rate, and that shows education and training alone is not an adequate long-term solution.”

Doctors irate

Quad bike accidents are the leading cause of death and severe injuries on Australian farms.

Since 2011, 150 people have died from quad bike-related accidents, 23 of whom have been children. In addition, six people present to hospital each day as a result of quad bike-related injuries.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall said anyone who lives in the bush knows somebody that has either been injured, killed or had a near miss on a quad bike.

“They are incredibly useful on the farm, but also so, so dangerous,” he said.

“Just because there are some manufacturers having a tantrum because we don’t want Australians to die on their bikes, is no reason to compromise on the new 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.

“As doctors, we see not only the tragic consequences for the people that are severely injured or killed, but also for their family, their friends and their community.

“We need to send a message: ‘we value the lives of Australian farmers, even if quad bike manufacturers don’t’.”

The ACCC has produced two new videos to help consumers and suppliers understand the new safety standard ahead of its introduction later this year. One of the ACCC’s videos, shot in country Victoria, shows how easily a quad bike can tip over and trap its rider.

It is to remind consumers about the risks of riding quad bikes and to inform them about what to look for when purchasing a quad bike that complies with the new standard.

second video shows what suppliers must do to comply with the new standard.

“We encourage farmers and their families to watch the videos to familiarise themselves with the standard, be safe when using quad bikes, and protect the lives of loved ones,” Keogh said.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and it is crucial that people continue to wear helmets and the appropriate safety gear, do all the necessary training, and do not let children ride adult quad bikes.”

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