Surely a quad bike must be safe? Four wheels sitting firmly on the ground. A name that tells you it is safe to ride anywhere – All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). They are easy to use – ‘just hop on and drive,’ say all the vacation destinations that advertise quad biking as a must-do activity. The manufacturers advertise them as excellent tools for use on farms. Lighter on fuel than a car, and you can reach all areas of your farm. The sad truth is that hundreds of people are killed each year and thousands seriously injured in quad accidents. So what makes quads so dangerous?
Quads have a high center of gravity and a narrow wheelbase. They lack lateral stability and are not stable on all terrains. They can move on two axes; back-front and side-to-side. These factors make them prone to rolling. Their weight is not easily moved, and crush injuries are common.
Manufacturers of quad bikes say the accidents are due to user error, but is this true? Is this factual, and how dangerous is a quad?
What Makes Quads Dangerous?
Quads have a high center of gravity, which, combined with a narrow wheelbase, causes the quad to be top-heavy and unstable. Quads usually have engines that provide high torque (resulting in fast acceleration from relatively low horsepower engines). Generally, quad tire pressures are kept low. Tires kept at low pressure can assist with traction in soft terrains such as thick sand and mud. The negative result of this is that low pressures result in more sidewall flex which, in turn, contributes to increased lateral instability of the quad. All this, combined with a soft suspension, causes the instability to increase dramatically.
Quads are rear-wheel drive vehicles which, in turn, adds to lateral instability. Rear-wheel drive will cause a vehicle to swing outwards when accelerating and cornering. The low-pressure tires may slip and suddenly catch on an object or rough ground as the quad swings. With the high center of gravity, there is a high likelihood of the quad rolling as the tire grips.
Quads are heavy machines. They can weigh anything between 600 pounds to 900 pounds. This is a tremendous amount of weight if you become trapped beneath it. With a quad’s propensity to roll over, you stand a high chance of being trapped under a quad – a life-threatening situation.
How Dangerous Are Quads Really?
It is reported that one Australian farmer dies each week from a quad accident. ATV accidents account for more than thirty percent of all deaths on farms in Australia. In the USA, there are 135 000 people seriously injured by quad bike accidents every year. Seven hundred of these will die. One-third of the deaths are children under the age of sixteen years. Eighty-eight percent of the people involved in quad accidents are men. These are only the death statistics. Many people are permanently paralyzed from quad accidents.
The primary causes of death are catastrophic head, neck, and spinal injuries, abdominal and chest crush injuries, and asphyxiation. Almost seventy percent of farm quad deaths are due to asphyxiation resulting from being pinned under the quad. The majority of recreational riders that die in quad accidents die from head, neck, and spinal trauma or severe crush injuries. Thirty-two percent die from asphyxiation in recreational accidents. Many quad riders strangle or die due to throat lacerations from riding into wires or washing lines.
Quad Manufacturers Blame Deaths On User Error
Quad manufacturers have for many years blamed the growing number of quad-related deaths on the riders misusing the quads. They cite reckless driving, alcohol use, and other misuses of the quad as the reason for accidents. In 2019 Australia became concerned over the large numbers of farmers dying in quad accidents. The loss of farmers would directly affect the country’s food security. They instituted an investigation into the safety of quads. The results were startling.
Quads – Not Such All-Terrain Vehicles
Although quads are advertised as all-terrain vehicles, the Australian study found that the quads could not safely negotiate all terrains. Lateral rolls are the most common type of quad rollover accident. Even a small amount of lateral lift on one side of the quad (such as could be caused by a rut) could result in a lateral roll. In addition, ATVs could also roll over forwards and backward when negotiating inclines.
The Australian government stated that manufacturer’s claims that user error and inexperience were responsible for almost all quad accidents were a smokescreen to hide inherently unsafe designs. Research done at the University of New South Wales showed that more than fifty percent of fatal quad accidents occurred with drivers with twenty years or more experience operating quad bikes. This finding negated the claims by the manufacturers that casualties were due to inexperienced riders.
What Can Be Done About Unsafe Quad Designs?
The research analysis of ATV accidents has led to the conclusion that quads have an inherently unsafe design. The Australian government recognizing the importance of quads in farming has instituted The Quad Bike Safety Standard. These regulations came into effect in October 2020. This law stipulates certain design features which must meet safety standards and tests. The quads must be tested on tilt tables to assess the lateral stability and front-rear pitch stability. You can read more about the specifications on the Accc website.
Many prominent manufacturers have refused to cooperate with these regulations, thinking of forcing the law to change in their favor. The Australian government has refused to budge in its approach to quad safety design. There are now several smaller manufacturers that have embraced the challenge and are producing safer quads. Perhaps more governments should adopt this approach to lessen quad accidents and fatalities.
Quad Recalls Due To Dysfunction
It is scary to note that some big quad manufacturers have had to recall quads due to the dysfunction of critical parts. KTM North America recalled two thousand seven hundred
quads that were sold between 2007 and 2009. The reason for the recall was an error in the braking system. The rear brake caliper supports were found to be faulty. This fault affected not only the braking but also the steering of the quad.
Yamaha recalled more than 120 000 quads following forty-six deaths which were caused by the quad rolling over. BRP-U.S. has recalled four thousand six hundred 2021 Outlander and Renegade quads due to the steering knuckle becoming detached. There are multiple other recalls of quads. A brief internet search will show a surprising number of recalls in recent years.
Personal Protection Equipment And Quads
Driving a quad on public streets is prohibited in many countries. As a result of this, there are no laws mandating the use of personal protection equipment such as helmets while riding a quad. The majority of people do not use helmets while driving quads. This is incredibly short-sighted and unsafe.
Many scientific studies have shown that helmet use significantly reduces the chances of death and concussion when the head receives a blow. Twenty-three percent of quad accidents involve people being thrown against a tree or other object. A helmet cannot be guaranteed to save your life, but it will increase your chances of surviving. A helmet can significantly lessen the chance of concussion from trauma to the head.
For many years, medical personnel and the general public regarded concussion as a non-serious condition that would be quickly resolved. Research completed at the University of Buffalo in 2016 changed the medical approach to concussion. It showed that concussion affects the entire functioning of the body.
The brain is responsible for controlling metabolic functions in the body. When it is traumatized, the body does not function as it should. Even a mild concussion can result in changes in body functions that range from memory to the efficient functioning of the gastrointestinal system for up to three months after the injury. This information should spur people on to use helmets while riding quads.
Wearing appropriate clothing that covers your arms and legs will help prevent injuries and lacerations from passing objects. It is highly recommended that quad drivers wear a high visibility vest to alert other vehicle users to your presence. It could also help to locate you if you do have an accident on your quad.
Lack Of Training Increases Quad Accidents
Quads appear to be easy to operate. You do not need to learn to balance as you do with a motorbike. Most people assume you can simply get on a quad and drive it. There are, however, skills that you do need to operate a quad safely. Sadly this training seldom happens. It is frightening to consider how many vacation destinations offer quad bike riding as an activity at their resort.
There is no training provided before vacationers are allowed to use the quads. There are no helmets provided, and sometimes there are even small quads that are rented out for children to ride. Often the resorts offer quad tracks which are off-road quad adventures. These quad trails are full of uneven surfaces and varying terrain. For someone untrained in driving a quad safely, this is an accident and tragedy in waiting.
It would be beneficial if quad manufacturers had compulsory training courses for all people who purchase a quad. Governments could reduce the number of quad accidents by mandating that manufacturers offer compulsory courses with any sales.
Quads: One Seat – One Person
Many parents feel that they can drive a quad while their child sits “safely” behind or in front of them. Children may often be seen with two or even three of them riding on a single quad. In rural areas, it is convenient to give someone a ‘lift’ on your quad bike.
Quads are designed to be ridden by a single rider that can adjust their position while cornering and covering different terrains. Having a passenger that does not alter their position creates even more instability in an already unstable vehicle. In addition, the added weight will significantly affect the functioning and stability of the ATV. The one-seat–one-person rule should be strictly applied.
Alcohol And Quads Don’t Mix
Alcohol can be a significant factor in any risk-taking behavior, and riding a quad is no exception. Alcohol compromises your reflexes, vision, and ability to make sound judgments. It also affects your balance which is crucial in operating an ATV safely. Quads and alcohol are a terrible mix and should be avoided at all costs.
Quads Should Not Be Ridden On Roads
Quad bikes should not be ridden on the roads. Not only is it illegal in many countries, but it is also dangerous on many fronts. Cars, trucks, and other vehicles will usually travel faster than an ATV. This leads to dangerous overtaking situations. Quads are designed to have high traction on soft surfaces. Paved roads cause the quad to slip and roll over easily. Stay off the streets when riding a quad.
Should Quads be Driven At High Speed?
Quads are not designed to be driven at high speeds. Their design makes them dangerous when the speed is increased. Speeding on a quad decreases the amount of time your reflexes have when responding to a situation. Your timing may be too slow when correcting or balancing if you are driving at high speeds. Anytime speed is a factor in an accident, the outcome becomes grave.
Should Children Ride Quads?
Jeremy Clarkson commented, “if you want to kill your children, there’s no quicker way that I can see than buying them a quad bike.” Some quad bikes are marketed especially for children. Their manufacturers claim they are safe for children, have smaller engines and safety cut-off switches. However, the smallest quad bikes (50 cc) weigh around 215 – 220 pounds (100 kg). They usually have a top speed of 10km, although some go up to 25km. These quads are marketed as being safe for children from the age of four years!
When considered logically, the reality of these claims is frightening. There is no way a child of four could lift a quad that weighs 215 pounds off themselves if the quad were to roll onto them. The weight discrepancy would cause the child to asphyxiate rapidly. The child’s weight is negligible and will have little impact on balancing, steering, and correcting the quad bike.
Children only have the beginnings of abstract thought at approximately ten years of age. Looking ahead and judging consequences are dependent on abstract thinking. Children are not normally capable of moving at 10 miles per hour, so they have no experience in moving that fast and knowing the risks and effects of speed. To put a child incapable of assessing danger and reacting appropriately in charge of a hurtling machine borders on madness.
The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and Brake ( a British road safety charity) have advised that children under sixteen years should not be allowed to operate a quad or be passengers on a quad. Many medical and road safety associations are calling for a total ban on children under the age of sixteen years being allowed to drive quads or be passengers on quads.
Quads are marketed as all-terrain vehicles, but a close inspection of the facts shows that they are not safe in all terrains. Quads are very prone to rolling over due to design flaws. Quads that roll onto riders are responsible for the majority of fatalities. Incorrect use, speed, loading passengers or goods, and lack of training account for some deaths and injuries from quad accidents.
Most quad riders neglect to wear helmets and other personal protection equipment, which lessens their chances of surviving a quad crash. There is an international call to ban all children under the age of sixteen years from operating quads.
The Australian government has taken a tough line on regulating that quads must be redesigned to meet specific safety criteria. It is possible to design a quad that would be safer. Lowering the center of gravity, making the quad a four-wheel drive, broadening the wheelbase, and quickly adjusting tire pressure for different terrains would improve safety.
Studies in designing mechanisms to protect the quad rider are needed. The statistics show that it is time that other governments institute regulations that make quads safer and lessen the high number of fatalities and serious injuries caused by quad bike accidents.