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It’s time for quad bike manufacturers to rollover on safety

The tragic quad-biking death of an 11-year-old boy from northwest Victoria on Monday takes the 2011 death toll from all terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents to 17. The boy reportedly died after his ATV overturned…

Seventeen Australians have died this year from quad bike accidents, also known as all terrain vehicles or ATVs. Flickr/sharkbait

The tragic quad-biking death of an 11-year-old boy from northwest Victoria on Monday takes the 2011 death toll from all terrain vehicle (ATV) accidents to 17.

The boy reportedly died after his ATV overturned while he was herding cows.

This accident shouldn’t have happened but it’s part of a growing trend of injury and deaths associated with these widely-used farming vehicles.

Data from the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety shows the number of deaths from the use of these vehicles has risen in the past decade from around eight to 10 a year, to 14 deaths in 2010.

The industry continues to recommend their traditional rider-education program as the panacea to the problem.

But while I’m unaware of any Australian evaluations of these programs, they seem to be having little effect on safety.

Design flaws

Around 280,000 ATVs are currently in use in Australia and the number is rapidly rising. Their popularity is based on their accessibility, ease of use, and low maintenance – they’re effectively substitutes for horses for all manner of farming and recreational needs.

No one denies their functionality and usefulness. But the industry is yet to update their design to improve their crashworthiness and handling.

The problem is that quad bikes can roll over and crush the driver, which highlights the need for crush protection devices (CPD) or rollover protection systems (ROPS) to save lives.

Researchers have found around half of ATV fatalities are associated with rollovers – a figure that, surprisingly, is disputed by some manufacturers.

Manufacturers haven’t improved the safety of ATVs. Flickr/zzathras777

Reducing the risks

The Victorian WorkCover Authority commissioned Monash University to study ATV injuries and deaths following a Victorian Coronial inquest into ATV deaths in 2003.

The authors designed a crush-protection device, which comprised of a protective structure and an occupant-restraint system – basically, a seat structure with profile sides and head rest and four-point seat belts.

The study evaluated the design using computer modelling for both moderate and severe lateral rollovers and found it provided good protection in such incidents.

The Monash report recommended further industry-supported research to come up with an ATV design that had full rollover protection systems and restraints, that reduced rollover propensity while providing for active riding to meet farmers' needs.

But the manufacturers chose not to accept the recommendation.

Instead, they hired legal teams and United States product litigation defence experts, including John W. Zellner from Dynamic Research Incorporated (DRI), to evaluate the Monash design at considerable cost (in the order of many hundreds of thousands of dollars).

DRI based its analysis on 113 very scantily described, two-line descriptors of ATV incidents, a large number of which didn’t even involve a rollover.

It claimed the Monash design caused more injuries than an ATV without a rollover protection system.

Study flaws

The manufacturers claim the DRI study as the main reason for not fittings rollover protection systems or even considering crush protection devices.

What they don’t mention is all Australian rollover safety research experts agree the DRI analysis is fundamentally flawed in its cost-benefit logic and modelling.

The analysis equated either 111 non-injuries, or 15 scrapes and bruises, or 5½ non-critical fractures (broken arm or rib) to one fatality.

But, of course, death and minor injury aren’t comparable – the goal must be to eliminate deaths altogether.

The analysis also contained around 150 basic modelling errors of the 113 cases, rendering it biased and totally inaccurate.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. This strategy is often implemented by industries to infuse doubt among legislators, who consider regulation that would potentially cost industry many millions of research and development dollars to find a solution.

Such doubt-mongering has been shown to be effective in delaying the inevitable legislation that mandates safety or restricts harmful products.

What can we do as consumers?

We need a joint research program, with industry and researchers, to find a solution. Though it seems unlikely manufacturers will come to the party – they haven’t so far.

But there is hope. If regulators created a program simular to the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), manufacturers would be forced to publish crash tests results. This would increase education for customers, and name and shame the manufacturers of unsafe vehicles.

This type of All Terrain Vehicle Assessment Program (ATVAP) could include three tests which would assess ATV safety in risky situations: a climb up a hill where the ATV rolls backwards, a side rollover down an incline, and a frontal crash.

If we rated the vehicles based on these three tests and published the results, consumers could make an informed decision about whether the vehicle they owned or were considering buying was safe. If it was found to not be safe, sales would likely dry up.

This relatively simple measure could apply the pressure the industry needs to improve ATV safety and prevent more deaths and serious injuries.

This article was co-authored by Dr George Rechnitzer, an engineer from Rechnitzer and Associates.

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11 Comments sorted by

  1. Paul Richards

    In the manufacturers defense, safety stickers on the TRX500 Honda specifically - says no under 16 year old use and wear a helmet.

    Also standard is a safety video in DVD format supplied about on safe riding.

    Any bar work currently designed for quads, just fails to function efficiently. Arguably they could actually be more detrimental as no real world testing has been done on them.

    The question really is a matter of culpability, when it is said and done, a parent who leaves a child locked in…

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    1. Raphael Grzebieta

      UNSW Australia

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Dear Mr Richards,

      I don’t mind you presenting constructive arguments criticising my opinion. After all we live in a democracy and it is your right to do so and it is also how we as a society continue to learn and develop knowledge. But to state that I am “thoughtless”, that I should “walk around other people’s value systems” to appreciate your arguments, and what I am proposing is “ridiculous” because I have a different opinion to you is abusive.

      Your arguments are tragic and endemic of the problems…

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    2. Paul Richards

      In reply to Raphael Grzebieta

      Raphael thanks for your tombe in response, I read your value system more clearly.

      "I don’t mind you presenting constructive arguments criticising my opinion".

      Well Raphael, that it is a clear misrepresentation of the truth and it is transparent for all to see in your response.

      Firstly, I am not personally attacking you, but I still maintain the - idea - is ridiculous.

      "Why should it be any different in regards to ATV’s?"

      Are you serious? This only outlines your poor value system, and inability…

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  2. Yossi Berger

    National OHS Co-ordinator AWU

    You make some interesting points, Paul, but omit an important one: despite everything that the industry has advised about safety with their machines, despite what regulators have done, despite farmers' knowledge of daily risks, despite all of that, this is the only machine in the modern world that I know of that continues to kill people from the age of 4 to 90. Is that not sadly informative just in itself?

    Would you really want to say that these people killed were all delinquent riders? All…

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    1. Paul Richards

      In reply to Yossi Berger

      Yosi, people take risks.

      Some young men and women under twenty five thrive on risks. This is a freedom they choose. Ignoring this fact is just pointless.

      If you read what I wrote I am not denying the quad, ATV are not a dangerous. No more than I would deny a harvester, tractor, truck, or static motor is dangerous.

      This country was opened up by people taking risks. Ask anyone involved in mining on or offshore and look at the risks earning a living there. Millions of dollars are spent on safe…

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  3. George Rechnitzer

    Forensic and Safety Engineer

    Our view on improving ATV safety, was never about stopping people taking risks, or against the Anzac spirit - it’s about taking risks intelligently, and knowingly, and not under false information or illusions of safety.

    Modern racing cars have full roll cages, 6 point harness, fire protection suites, helmets etc - nobody has curtailed them. Modern soldiers wear body armour, with armour protected vehicles.

    With ATVs, manufacturers are being irresponsible by giving riders misleading information…

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  4. Yossi Berger

    National OHS Co-ordinator AWU

    You're right


    some young people do like to take risks. What about all the other injuries and fatalities? Are all the fatalities and injuries really risk takers or delinquent riders? Be fair!

    But your other comment suggests to me - if you don't mind me being a bit critical - you've got a lot of catching up to do in OHS. Most OHS officers, in any sector, will not say what you suggest they'll say. You continue to blame the victims, 'their mind set'.

    If you really are interested in OHS…

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    1. Paul Richards

      In reply to Yossi Berger

      Blame, when did I blame the victim?

      That's your value system talking.

      Go ahead put the money up.
      But I bet you are touting for a contract or a job.

      Go ahead put the money up, and see what happens.

    2. Paul Richards

      In reply to Paul Richards

      I wrote that in haste, I don't see these people who have accidents as victims.

      No more than I saw Peter Brock, Ayton Senna or Niki Lauda 'as victims'.

      This is where our value system diverges, I understand you and Raphael do.

      If you could ask Peter Brock if he or Ayton Senna if they were victims, I am certain we all know the answer.

    3. Tim White

      Lecturer in Mechanical Design at UNSW Australia

      In reply to Paul Richards

      Hi All,

      The conversation seems to have moved in a direction mostly concerned with the attitude and state-of-mind of the operator of the ATV. Rewinding a bit: Certainly, for a significant percentage of - perhaps the majority of - recreational users then yes, any form of restraint and/or ROPS would be considered too daggy to have on their ATV and would greatly detract from their enjoyment of it. If the fun (the perception of which is, I'm sure, at least somewhat attributable to the inherent risk…

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    4. Paul Richards

      In reply to Tim White

      Tim, thanks for sharing your experience.

      All the safety points you make are valid, as are the safety issues in the article.

      It's just the reality of the situation, in the real world farmers and off roaders take risks. It's a life style issue, or a sporting issue and our greatest sporting heros have taken risks like these. Just watch the XGames and tell us they could get there playing with motorbikes or ATV in roll cages.

      The people who believe in this concept should put their own money up…

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