Voice of Real Australia: The tool farmers can't live with or without

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From October next year, all new quad bikes must be fitted with roll-over protection devices.

From October next year, all new quad bikes must be fitted with roll-over protection devices.

I have two facts to disclose on the issue of quad bike safety.

The first is that my husband and I, and our children, do not use quad bikes on our own farm, for safety reasons.

The second is that my husband and I don't agree on whether roll-over protection should be mandatory on quad bikes.

I'm all for it but my husband believes the move is an over-regulation that will disadvantage farmers who find quad bikes the best option for their terrain.

We've always taken a firm and united stand on quads when it comes to our own sheep and cattle property in western Queensland.

While we could see how handy a quad bike would be, we've always resisted buying one, opting instead to teach our three sons to ride two-wheeled motorbikes.

We're also among the many thousands of Australian farmers to have recently purchased a side-by-side vehicle to do a few of the jobs that we've often yearned for a quad for.

At the core of the quad bike debate is a ruling from the federal government that all new quad bikes must be filled with roll-over protection by October 2021.

That announcement was made last October and since then, several major quad bike manufacturers, including Yamaha and Honda, have revealed they will withdraw from the Australian market claiming they can't afford the expense of fitting roll-over protection devices.

As both a farmer and a journalist I've watched the debate unfold with interest but I haven't been surprised by the extreme passion on both sides.

For me, the facts speak for themselves. Quad bikes are the most dangerous tool farmers have.

The Safer Farms report, just released on Monday to coincide with Farm Safety Week 2020, revealed total farm deaths and injuries over the past decade.

In all but four years quad bikes are listed as the most common agent of death on farm. Quads were also the leading cause of injury in every year since 2010.

Tractors were the leading cause of farm deaths in 2010, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Almost 90 per cent of the total 625 fatalities were males, with more than half over 50 years of age. Sadly, 15 per cent of deaths in the past decade were children under 15.

During the first six months of 2020 there have been 33 fatalities and 71 injuries on farms, according to the report.

Nine of the deaths have involved quads including four children under 15.

It is this last statistic that galvanises my position because while I can control what happens on my own property, I'm relatively powerless to stop our boys from riding quad bikes when they visit other farms.

I know the fitting of operator protection devices will change the quad bike market forever but I also believe if there is a genuine commercial need, manufacturers will meet the market.

I'm hoping we see new, safer designs that incorporate the roll-over protection into a machine that farmers continue to find useful.

I don't have all the answers and I can appreciate all sides of this divisive debate but I'll sleep a little easier knowing we've at least tried to do something about addressing Australia's biggest farm safety hazard.

  • Penelope Arthur is ACM's national agricultural news editor and a farmer from Roma, Queensland

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