Quad Bikes: Where to Next?
New legislation, which will require all new quad bikes sold in Australia to be fitted with an Operator Protection Device, is causing major industry upheaval. JOHN POWER investigates.
Safety-based legislation in Australia often incites a tug-of-war between manufacturers and healthcare and/or consumer advocates: examples include the mandatory wearing of seatbelts (1971), the ban on ozone-depleting Chlorofluorocarbons (1989), and the abolition of materials containing asbestos (2003).
Now quad bikes, members of the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) class of machinery, have joined the battleground – and the result is a shake-up that will see many major players quit the local market, and smaller players emerge to fill the void.
Quads are important pieces of equipment in regional Australia, and now account for about half of the ATV market, with side-by-side vehicles (SSVs) making up the balance. Typically less expensive and more agile than SSVs, quads are popular for mustering duties, and for generalist activities on small-acreage or rugged properties. There are estimated to be well over 200,000 quads in the local market.
The Consumer Goods (Quad Bikes) Safety Standard 2019 (visit www.productsafety.gov.au/standards/quad-bikes) became law on 11 October 2019, as driven by the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission (ACCC), and with the support of agencies such as the National Farmers Federation (NFF) [see NFF statement below], and will be implemented in two Stages.
The first Stage, effective 11 October 2020, will require all new quad bikes sold in Australia to comply with a range of US and EU performance standards, and feature various new labeling and handbook information.
The second (more important) Stage, effective 11 October 2021, will require all new quads sold in Australia to be fitted with an approved Operator Protection Device (OPD), such as units supplied by Quadbar or Lifeguard, and meet or exceed minimum lateral stability (tilt angle) targets.
These safety requirements establish new global benchmarks for mandatory quad safety; only Israel has similar provisions.
To date, three major international manufacturers – Honda, Polaris and Yamaha – have reacted to the new legislation by declaring they will cease to supply new quad bikes to the Australian market once the legislation is enacted, citing mixed reasons including: unclear legal liabilities, questionable ‘fitness for purpose’ and load ratings of OPD mounting systems, as well as the potential for stock redundancy following Stage 2 implementation.1
Needless to say, industry gossip mills are rife with other (purely hypothetical) speculations about why some players might choose to leave the market: fears the new legislation might pave the way for retrospective culpability for historical accidents; fears the new regulations will create different grades of safety equipment in different jurisdictions, along with higher production costs; fears the new legislation might serve as an expensive precedent for overseas markets; and fears that the imposition of similar tough safety protocols overseas might alienate unwilling markets, particularly the USA.
Market reactions aside, let’s consider the reason for the new legislation: improved safety.
According to Safe Work Australia, some 150 Australians have died since 2011 as a result of quad bike accidents (up to 16 July 2020), with most of these fatalities linked to rollovers.2 In 2018, for instance, there were 11 quad-related deaths recorded in Australia3 and over 650 hospitalisations.4
In larger overseas markets, fatalities and injuries arising from quad accidents are similarly disturbing. In the USA, for example, there were 295 quad-related deaths and 93,800 emergency hospital admissions in 2017 alone.5 NB: this death toll, according to the World Health Organization, is almost identical to that caused by falls from ladders.
In light of persistently high rates of death and injury from quads in Australia and worldwide going back decades, and mindful of longstanding scientific research supporting the efficacy of OPDs6, it is understandable that the ACCC felt compelled to drive regulatory reform.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Clearly, the new legislation has exposed a chasm between adherents and objectors. One company in favour of working within the new regulatory framework is Mojo Motorcycles, exclusive local distributor of CFMoto quads and related products. CFMoto models have been available in Australia since 2005, with sales (quads as well as SSVs) totalling 25,000 units to date.
Mojo’s director Michael Poynton has pledged to stay in the Australian marketplace and offer the full range of CFMoto models in compliance with the new regulations – indeed, since 3 July all new Mojo-supplied quads have been compliant with both Stage 1 and 2 requirements, including custom-fitted Quadbar Flexi OPDs. This preemptive compliance, he says, not only offers certainty of supply to customers and partnering dealers going forward, but it also provides dealers with plenty of time to make the transition to full compliance by October 2021.
“We have been neutral,” Poynton says. “We took the view the legislation is going to be what it’s going to be, and in all honesty [achieving] compliance wasn’t as onerous as some of the other manufacturers may have put forward.”
Poynton says the decision to achieve Stage 1 and 2 compliances immediately has paid dividends. “Our view was the sooner we could start to supply fully compliant quads, the less fuss we would have to deal with come the deadline to retrofit. We introduced our first [fully compliant] model, the 400, in early June, which sold out that month. Since 3 July every model supplied to the dealers has been fully compliant, which means every model is supplied with a cut-to-fit Quadbar OPD ready for attachment.”
Poynton says the market’s acceptance of the new regulations has been gratifying: not only are additional costs of $500 per quad good value for money (a stand-alone Quadbar Flexi OPD can cost about $700), but commercial operators in particular have also been keen to enhance employee safety while mitigating OH&S risks.
STRONG OPD SALES
Quadbar’s managing director David Robertson says his Queensland-based company has been making OPD attachments for many years, and released the current, now patented, single-post Flexi model about 18 months ago following three years of R&D. The Flexi is a tow bar-mounted post designed to offer rollover protection. It features a flexible ‘knee joint’ to permit limited rearward flexibility in case of contact with obstacles like branches, and locking lateral and frontal rigidity.
Robertson says existing sales of Quadbar OPDs in Australia (approx. 3,000 units per year) have been strengthened in recent years by rebates in Vic, NSW and Tas, and the latest legislation will only help increase sales and lower rates of injury and death. NB: approximately 15,000 OPDs have already been fitted voluntarily to quads in Australia – there have been no reported deaths in regional Australia involving quads fitted with an OPD.
Robertson says Australia’s commercial sector is leading the uptake of OPDs. “Having a Quadbar or an OPD of some description is no big deal,” he says. “There is a real incentive for employers to make sure their safety is up to scratch; there is also new manslaughter legislation coming into Victoria which is going to affect farmers, so there is a real push for commercial farmers, in particular, to satisfy OH&S requirements.”
Apart from making commercial arrangements to supply Mojo Motorcycles with Quadbar Flexi OPDs, Robertson says he is in discussions to supply OPDs to two other Australian quad distributors – names confidential for the moment.
Meantime, international interest is also burgeoning. Robertson says OPD markets in Sweden, New Zealand, Spain and Canada are showing great interest in improved safety technologies for quads, and that EU-wide adoption in the near future is credible.
Not all customers, of course, have responded favourably to the announced imposition of mandatory OPDs – many buyers have been rushing to purchase non-OPD-fitted quads in advance of legislative deadlines.
Legitimate complexities remain to be ironed out: will aftermarket attachments predominate, or will manufacturers engineer and install their own OPD as original equipment? If an OPD fails, or is fitted incorrectly, who will be liable, particularly in circumstances involving long supply chains across numerous countries? And how will compliance be policed?
One question, however, is pivotal: Is ‘business as usual’ acceptable? And the answer, surely, is no.
- See public submissions to the proposed legislation at https://consultation.accc.gov.au
- Based on Safe Work Australia statistics. See www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
- Australian Farm Deaths & Injuries, Media Monitors Snapshot, 1 Jan – 31 Dec 2018. AgHealth Australia, The University of Sydney.
- According to NFF CEO Tony Maher, quoted in: Honda Latest to Withdraw from Australian Quad Market, by Neil Lyon, Grain Central, 28 May 2020.
- ATV deaths: Quad bike toll hits 300 in US, by Peter Hunt, The Weekly Times, 27 Mar 2019.
- It’s time for quad bike manufacturers to roll over on safety, The Conversation, 4 October 2011.