How to stop the quad deaths

How to stop the quad deaths

Machinery
DYNAMIC: Carpendeit dairy farmer Robert Campbell demonstrates how he rides a quad dynamically.

DYNAMIC: Carpendeit dairy farmer Robert Campbell demonstrates how he rides a quad dynamically.

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Quad bike fatalities are too high but the reality that most manufacturers are pulling out of Australia has escalated the slanging match over how best to save lives.

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While all sides agree quad bike fatalities are too high, the reality that most manufacturers are pulling out of Australia has escalated the slanging match over how best to save lives.

The quad bike battle has triggered a statewide panic buying frenzy as farmers scramble to secure supply of the versatile bikes.

According to data collected from coroner's courts, about half those killed on quads were at work and half at play, but three quarters of all deaths happen on farms.

But that's where the agreement ends and, as a consequence, most manufacturers have said they will no longer supply quads to Australians after new safety standards come into force.

Safety standard spat

The key requirements of the standard overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission include labelling, stability tests and the fitting of operator protection devices (OPD) like the Quadbar.

The standard is backed by both the Victorian Farmers Federation and the National Farmers Federation.

On the other hand, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents most of the large manufacturers, says the OPDs are a hazard in themselves and favour enforcing the wearing of helmets, the banning of children or passengers on full-sized quads, training and licensing of riders.

So bitter is the standoff between both sides, the last meeting between the NFF and FCAI ended after just 15 minutes.

That was in July last year and there hasn't been another meeting between the farmer and quad bike lobby groups since.

And, so far, only one manufacturer, CF Moto, which is not an FCAI member, has confirmed it will continue to supply quads to the Australian market.

OPD stalemate

OPDs are the most contentious part of the new quad bike standard.

Retiring Honda Australia managing director Robert Toscano said some of the standard's requirements were "okay with us".

"The issue for us is that all of our testing and retesting shows that OPDs as they exist do not improve safety outcomes," he said.

"So, when you ask would we still be in [the Australian market] if they dropped OPD, I can't give an exact answer, but there's a much better chance."

He said the company also had concerns with the extra stability testing that would be mandated after October next year.

Yamaha Motor Australia director Brad Ryan offered little room for compromise.

"If the word 'mandatory' appears in the same sentence as OPD, as the regulation currently states, then I think the whole industry is folding, except for some Chinese opportunists," he said.

"I can't speak for all brands, but if it was changed to 'farmers choice', or 'fit for purpose' then Yamaha would very quickly rethink our position."

VFF president David Jochinke said the benefit of OPD was clear.

"The stats show that no one has died who has had a protection device fitted to their bike on farm," he said.

The FCAI disagrees, referring to research it commissioned by international consulting firm Dynamic Research Inc. (DRI) and saying, at 20,000, the number of OPDs fitted was so small, they were unlikely to have been involved in a fatality.

"We've always held to our position that the science is at best inconclusive about the benefits but we don't think there's a net benefit safety benefit from OPDs," FCAI chief executive Tony Weber said.

DRI's research appeared to show that OPDs were equally likely to harm as to protect users, Mr Weber said.

ACCC deputy commissioner Mick Keogh dismissed the DRI results, which he said came from "experts paid and contracted by the manufacturers."

"Those experts simply did simulation, computer modelling and nothing else, and came up with situations that they claimed would result in the operator protection device causing more harm than nothing else.

"We asked independent engineering experts to review it and they said that simulation hadn't been validated against real life situations, so it was impossible to make any firm conclusions."

Farmer fury

Tensions are also high within the farmer bodies.

Mr Jochinke said he'd had "a lot of feedback from members, some very adamant that at all costs, they want to have access to the bikes on which they currently sit, others who have shared stories of experiences and close misses."

The farmer lobby body's position had been formed by policy council as it sought answers to the death toll.

"Not for a moment am I or the organisation against quads but the numbers of people that injure themselves and are dying in agriculture, time and time again the quad bikes are coming up in the stats," Mr Jochinke said.

Carpendeit dairy farmer Robert Campbell said the farmer lobby had not consulted members.

"They haven't asked any farmers if we wanted to get rid of them, that's the biggest thing, they haven't consulted with anyone and that's a big red flag," he said.

READ MORE: South-west farmers stock up on quad bikes as manufacturers pull out of Australian market

That has flowed into the political arena, too.

Victorian MP Richard Riordan said he's had "heaps" of calls on the matter as farmers wanting to buy quads are turned away by dealers.

"Dealers say, 'We can't help you anymore so go talk to your member of parliament'," he said.

"Don't blame the politicians on this one, it's the farm industry groups that have let you down. I can't lobby to have it changed if the industry groups are supporting the ban."

The Katter party has also condemned the move to the mandatory standard.

Imports questioned

The ACCC and VFF have moved to reassure farmers, saying a similar OPD law in Israel hadn't stopped quad bike imports but Honda Australia general manager motorcycles Tony Hinton said importers would also struggle with the local laws.

"How do you know that that imported product complies with the safety standard?" Mr Hinton said.

"And I'm not talking about the fitment of an OPD, I'm talking about the longitudinal and static stability standard that's coming into play in October 2021. Because no testing would've been done."

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