Quad-bike manufacturers are celebrating after the federal government backed down on threats to make roll bars mandatory on the deadly vehicles.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten this week announced anyone younger than 16 would be banned from operating an adult-sized quad bike on farms and workplaces. The decision followed dozens of incidents where young children had been crushed by, or thrown off, the high-powered machines.
But he did not follow through on earlier threats to improve the safety of quad bikes by forcing manufacturers to install crush prevention bars as a standard feature.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which has campaigned for six months to stave off roll-bar reforms, embraced confirmation they wouldn’t happen.
Chief executive Tony Weber declined to be interviewed today but in a statement, repeated claims roll bars would cause more injuries and deaths than they prevented.
“In all good conscience we simply cannot agree to putting (the devices) on to vehicles which were never designed to have them fitted and could cause the rider injury,” he said.
Safety researchers, engineers, farming groups and emergency services have consistently dismissed the chamber’s claims that roll bars were dangerous.
Critics claim the automotive industry opposes the bars because they are an added cost, could trigger a dip in sales and would be an acknowledgement they have been producing an unsafe product.
A literature review completed this year by the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (a joint venture between Monash University, WorkSafe Victoria and the Transport Accident Commission) found crush protection devices on quad bikes had potential to reduce injuries and fatalities.
The review also found the research rollbar opponents relied on used “flawed methodologies and assumptions”.
Mr Shorten said the government still hoped manufacturers would introduce safety improvements voluntarily. The minister would “continue to consider options to reduce risks to health and safety for quad-bike operators in workplaces,” a spokeswoman said.
About 170 people have died in quad-bike accidents since the year 2000. The bikes are now the leading cause of deaths on Australian farms and rollovers account for about half the deaths.
However, the majority of victims are aged 45 and over. The decision Mr Shorten took yesterday will do little to change that.
The South Australian Wine Industry Association, which had this year called for all quad bikes to be fitted with roll bars, said some of its members were turning away from the vehicles, given the dangers.
“If there was legislation backing up the view that us and others may have, that would be of assistance,” business and workplace advisor Egon Schwidder said of the decision not to make rollbars and helmets mandatory. “But it still doesn’t take away the obligation of an employer to make sure they provide a safe workplace and safe equipment.”
Agriculture ranks second behind road transport as Australia's most dangerous industry.
The National Farmers Federation has also backed crush protection devices.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries does support the mandatory wearing of helmets and prohibiting children under 16 from operating adult-sized quad bikes.
“An adult-sized ATV is not a toy and children under 16 shouldn't be using them,” Mr Weber said.
Fifteen people have died in quad bike accidents this year, the youngest a five-year-old girl.