One of the more controversial subjects in farming is the use of ATV’s – otherwise known as “Quad Bikes”.
Why are these controversial?
In one sense, nobody disputes that an unacceptable number of people are killed in agricultural-related accidents with quad bikes every year.
At a time of writing, the final annual figures for 2014 are not available but based on past years, it’s normally the case that around 20-30 people are killed each year across the country on these machines.
Most authorities accept that they are the highest individual cause of farming fatalities.
So, if nobody can actually dispute those figures, why is there controversy?
The fact of the matter is that on the one hand, many safety experts are highly critical of aspects of the design of these machines and believe them to be inherently dangerous. There have been long-established concerns over their balance and centre of gravity in situations such as on inclines or when hitting unanticipated bumps or divots in the ground.
Others point out that many of them lack any sort of cab and have no crumple zones or roll bar protection in place.
The counter arguments run that nobody requires motorcycles to have crumple zones and roll bars. They also contend that there is much less media hysteria about the high number of motorcycle accidents than about quad bikes.
Advocates of these machines and that includes the manufacturers, point out that many of these accidents and fatalities arise from handling errors and riders who have failed to adopt the safety guidance and recommendations associated with them.
As a final comment, those who think highly of ATVs on the farm are quick to point out that they have become, in some farming situations, virtually indispensable as a cost-effective method for farmers to get around their land.
So, what’s the reality?
The origin of quad bikes
It’s an incredible fact but the first quad bike had its origin in Britain during the late 19th century.
However, in terms of the mass markets, they really start to become popular and available in numbers during the mid-1980s.
It’s worth noting though that these machines were originally designed for the military and latterly for aggressive leisure pursuits, racing and off-road work conducted by extremely experienced and well trained riders. It’s probably fair to say that they were never envisaged as being serious ‘work horses’ in farming in the same way as were agricultural tractors.
However, it is difficult to argue with the contention that they are more stable than a conventional motorcycle or dirt bike, so that begs the question as to why the serious injury and fatality statistics for them are typically higher, on a percentage utilisation basis, than for two wheeled bikes?
Many studies have looked at this area and reached different conclusions. Intuitively though, it seems likely as if the following factors are significant:
- In spite of much safety education to the contrary, many agricultural users of ATV’s continue to use them without appropriate safety and other protective clothing. This is a message that was learned a long time ago by the majority of responsible motorcycle users.
- The challenge of handling a quad bike, particularly at speed, on the highly uneven and unpredictable surfaces encountered in farming, should not be underestimated. Significant numbers of injuries arise because the riders are inexperienced and have had insufficient training.
- The fact that these vehicles were never designed with agricultural safety at the forefront of the engineers’ minds means that they are far less forgiving in accident situations than other types of agricultural vehicle.
Although there are some pleasing indications that the accident statistics are starting to decline, they are still high and unacceptably so.
There seems to be scope for the manufacturers to do far more to improve their safety but also for the farming community to take much more seriously the need to handle them with care and skill. That latter point re-enforces the need to undertake significant training before using them and above all, to make sure safety and protective equipment is used at all times.