A new group formed to "save" the quad bike in Australia says well-meaning groups like the Country Women's Association have been fed false information about the potential for operator protection devices (OPDs) to cut on-farm deaths.
The national president of the CWA, Tanya Cameron, recently challenged the Save the Quad in Australia (STQBIA) group to provide evidence for its claim quad bike deaths and accidents would more than triple in rural Australia should new safety standards including OPDs be mandated.
She also questioned the group's assertion that new laws to improve safety had been based on a wrong interpretation of quad bike deaths and that the toll was inflated by fatalities due to misadventure, no helmets, alcohol and riding side-by-side vehicles without seatbelts.
STQBIA founder, Craig Hartley, who has a motorbike dealership in Dalby, Queensland, said he didn't want to attack the CWA but claimed the organisation had been misled on the merit of OPDs to reduce quad bike fatalities.
"The CWA and many other groups have unfortunately been given incorrect information relating to quad bike OPD legislation, especially the way the reporting of quad bike fatalities is correlated and reported on," Mr Hartley said.
He said the CWA's claim that an average 16 people lost their lives in quad bike related accidents each year needed clarification.
"There were actually four farm quad bike fatalities in Australia in 2019. There were four recreational quad bike deaths and one of these was a child under 16.
"Side-by-side vehicles (SSVs) accounted for eight of the 16 deaths and unfortunately four of those were children under 16.
"The CWA said it supported the OPD legislation (due for implementation in October, 2021) based on best available scientific and medical evidence.
"Unfortunately the best available scientific evidence was not used or listened to by either the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) or the National Farmers Federation when the decision to implement compulsory OPDs was signed off.
"In the three coronial inquests in NSW, Qld and Tasmania, none of the coroners made a finding in favour of mandatory OPDs.
"The US Consumer Products Safety Commission did not support rollover devices in its quad bike ROPs study."
Instead it concluded the best tools and actions to reduce fatalities were mandatory helmets, excluding people under 16 from driving a quad bike and not allowing passengers on the machines, Mr Hartley said.
"As well, the UK Motor Industry Research Association recommended against the fitting of OPDs on quad bikes and Dynamic Research Inc simulations with and without OPDs showed no real safety benefit to the operator with as many people saved as potentially killed.
"Based on this information the quad bike manufacturers and distributors informed the ACCC that if mandatory OPDs were introduced on new quad bikes they would be left no option but to exit the Australian market."
Mr Hartley said if helmets were worn and if children under 16 were kept off quad bikes, the fatality rate would drop by more than 56pc across both farming and recreational use.
"If quad bikes are replaced by either side-by-sides (SSVs) or buggies, the empirical evidence suggests fatalities will remain the same or increase. They are unlikely to decrease.
"SSVs and buggies fitted with OPDs represent only 20pc of the total number of quad bikes in Australia and yet they comprise 50pc of the total number of fatalities across all vehicles.
"On pure math alone this makes SSVs and buggies 500pc more dangerous than a quad bike - these are published figures and not made up by us.
"It stands to reason that if research proves the mandatory fitting of OPDs actually does little to enhance rider safety on quad bikes, then the statistics for fatalities are likely to remain the same, if not increase, if OPDs are made compulsory for quad bikes.
"The CWA has been informed that annual average hospitalisation from quad bike injuries are about 1400 people and estimated six people attend hospital emergency departments every day due to injuries sustained from quad bikes.
"The STQBIA heavily questions six quad accidents per day involving hospitalisation.
"A large medical group in Australia we approached cannot provide a comprehensive breakdown of injuries, so (it) relies solely on the information provided by the NFF.
"The CWA has been informed that each injury ranges from $1000 for a minor injury to more than $4 million for disabling injuries, giving the average cost of each hospitalisation at more than $175,000.
"STQBIA seriously questions the assumption. If 1400 people (3.83 per day) attend hospital annually, at an average of $175,000 per person, then that gives total hospital expenditure of $245 million.
"On the other hand, compare the number of incidents and fatalities on quad bikes per annum with the social and economic costs associated with a myriad of additional activities on-farm, including the worrying increase in depression and suicide.
"When these numbers are added up, one really needs to ask why quad bikes are targeted so heavily by the likes of the NFF on social and economic grounds.
"The amount of attention given to quad bikes financially and economically simply does not make sense.
"The CWA goes on to say that no injury or fatality has ever been attributed to an OPD.
"The number of ROPs and OPDs fitted to quad bikes in Australia is only about four per cent. Hence the numbers are so small that they cannot really be surveyed or counted as a percentage when it comes to accidents or deaths.
"Chasing the wrong solution, based on what we call 'emotive policy', could actually make the situation worse.
"As a community we do not blame boat manufacturers when people drown. Boat owners, skippers and crew, can choose to take advice, be educated, trained, heed the warnings and wear a life jacket, or not.
"As we know, a large majority of boat drownings occur because people refuse to wear a life jacket.
"We should therefore not be blaming quad bike manufacturers for quad bike riders and owners not heading the safety warnings."
The story Save the quad bike group returns fire on its critics first appeared on Farm Online.