There are more than 300,000 quad bikes in use around Australia. Especially on farming properties they are an important and popular piece of equipment.
Unfortunately, quad bikes are the leading cause of death on Australian farming properties, with 15 to 20 fatalities every year and a further 1,400 serious injuries. Young people aged between 10 and 24 years have a much higher risk of injury.
In South Australia, there have been more than 100 workers' compensation claims for injuries sustained on quad bikes in the past 10 years.
The majority of quad bike injuries are from rollovers, even at slow speed, trapping or crushing the rider underneath. The most common cause of death is due to entrapment and inability to breathe under the weight of an overturned bike. An adult sized quad bike can weigh up to 400 kg.
Other contributing factors include:
- lack of training or experience
- excessive speed
- steep, rocky, uneven or unfamiliar ground
- carrying a passenger or an unbalanced load
- use of attachments
- unsuitable protective equipment/clothing
- unsafe riding techniques.
High risk vehicles
Although quad bikes appear to be sturdy and have often been marketed as 'all terrain vehicles', they cannot be used safely on all types of terrain and are inherently susceptible to rollover.
Owners and operators must be aware that they are high risk vehicles. On a farm your workplace is often your home too. Because of this, the people you need to keep safe at your workplace include your own family as well as workers, visitors and, more importantly, children.
Before buying or using a quad bike, first ask yourself:
- is it the most suitable vehicle for the intended task?
- is there a more suitable option, such as a motorbike, ute, tractor or side-by-side vehicle?
If a quad bike is absolutely necessary you should:
- buy from a reputable manufacturer
- select an agricultural quad bike, not a sports recreational model
- choose a model that is designed for power, traction, stability and its intended use, taking into account the size of your property and the age of operators
- if possible, ensure it comes with a factory-fitted crush prevention device (CPD).
Due to the unique design characteristics of quad bikes, installing a roll cage is not possible. You can retrofit an existing bike by installing a CPD which retail for under $700. These devices change the bike’s trajectory if it rolls over. However, they are not failsafe and should be viewed as just one of many solutions to help minimise the risk of injury and death.
Check Product Safety Australia for lists of product safety recalls for quad bikes.
In March 2018 the ACCC proposed major changes to improve quad bike safety.
Ensure that you and other riders:
- are trained and competent in safe bike use and operation
- there are courses available through TAFE where they will come to your area to facilitate
- this is also a good idea for community training events, especially for the younger generation of farmers who have less experience
- are familiar with the capabilities, stability and handling of the bike:
- on different terrains, such as undulating ground and steep inclines
- at different speeds on differing terrains
- on differing ground cover such as wet, slippery clays and rocky stone reefs
- when attachments such as trailers and rack mounted spray tanks are added, or dogs are on their perch, noting how they change weight ratios
- follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for operation and loading, securely restraining and evenly distributing the weight of items being carried
- only use suitable attachments that won’t compromise bike stability
- conduct a pre-operational safety check before any ride to make sure that brakes, steering and tyres are in good working condition
- keep bikes well maintained and only use parts for repairs that are designed for use on the particular brand of bike
- ride to the conditions, considering terrain, visibility, wind and ground conditions
- use familiar tracks, where possible
- leave all guards and protective devices in place, particularly foot plates
- remove A-frames when they are not being used in quieter times
- always wear a helmet - there are approved open-faced helmets on the market and others that provide better air flow for hot riding conditions
- wear appropriate clothing and equipment for the environment, such as long pants, boots, gloves, eye protection, face shield/goggles
- stay visible with flags, aerials, hi-vis shirts and colourful helmets
- have a reliable means of communication with a person who knows where you will be working, what time you expect to return and can provide fast assistance if needed - consider installing a suitable Personal Locator Beacon which activates automatically should the bike rollover
- never operate a bike if affected by fatigue, illness, drugs or alcohol
- never attempt jumps, wheelies or other stunts
- never transport another person, due to weight shifting and control risks, unless the bike is designed for two people
- never allow children aged under 16 to operate an adult-sized quad bike, because their body weight, strength and skill are likely to be insufficient to safely control it
- keep public road movement to a minimum between farm blocks – quad bikes are not intended for use on smooth paved or bitumen surfaces where they could be difficult to control.
Our Farmers’ Guidebook to Work Health and Safety provides practical tips on creating a safe workplace, including for quad bikes and other items of agricultural plant and equipment.
A range of quad bike safety information is available from Safe Work Australia.
QuadWatch is an Australian Government initiative bringing together industry, manufacturers, quad bike users, community organisations and government to raise awareness of quad bike safety. The site includes links to the findings of coronial inquests held in New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand to examine fatal incidents involving quad bikes.
The University of Adelaide’s Centre for Automotive Research report Quad bikes in South Australia. An investigation of their use, crash characteristics and associated injury risks provides insights about quad bike use and incidents that occur as a result of their use. The SafeWork SA sponsored 2016 study also identifies high risk uses and examines the severity and type of injury sustained by quad bike riders.
A research and testing project undertaken by the University of New South Wales investigated the causes of incidents and find ways to improve the design of quad bikes. The 18-month project involved comprehensive research, evaluation of past incidents and more than 1,000 tests on 16 production vehicles. The SafeWork NSW funded project report was released in 2015. A short video is available.