Quad bike negotiations: Industry rates safety experts as 'zeros'
AWAITINGThe Federal Chamber of Automotive Industry and an American automotive expert representing quad manufacturers have quit an Australian government advisory group evaluating a proposed five-star rating system designed to reduce fatalities and injuries.
Before the US automotive expert Scott Kebschull quit, though, he provided his own five-star rating evaluations, which gave a "zero" to nearly every Australian expert, minister and organisation supporting new safety regulations and design changes.
Safety experts described the resignations and the ratings by Mr Kebschull as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to muddy the debate and stop the Australian government from implementing a mandatory safety standard, introducing rollover protection and a new ratings systems. Recent research found that even a "tuft of grass" made quads vulnerable to a rollover.
Before Mr Kebschull resigned, he provided a spreadsheet listing evaluating the engineering expertise and experience in ATV crashworthiness or dynamics, highlighting those skilled to comment in green and those without in pink.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission scored a zero. In March, it proposed a five-star rating system and rollover protection, saying the frequency and causes of quad bike- related deaths and injuries suggest they are not safe enough.
A spokesperson for the ACCC said the Chamber had been vocal about resisting regulatory intervention.
Quads are now the leading cause of non-intentional injury death on Australian farms (outranking tractors), and about 114 people have died in quad incidents between 2011 to 2017. Many die when the 300-kilogram quad rolls on top of them, suffocating the driver.
The ACCC said that although quad bikes are "suggested to be almost twice as lethal per kilometre" of driving, they were completely unregulated, said the spokesperson. In contrast, motorbikes, tractors, cars, utilities and trucks are subject to strict mandatory safety requirements.
NSW Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean, who has been campaigning for more regulation, didn't even score a star either.
With 32 deaths in NSW since 2011, Mr Kean responded by saying, "Quad bike manufacturers should spend less time blaming their customers and more time improving the safety of their products.”
"I can assure the public that the NSW government listens to the experts such as the NSW Coroner and the University of New South Wales, not vested-interest groups trying to protect their profits," he said.
Others rated as zeros include SafeWork NSW, Worksafe QLD, the Australian army, and trauma experts Dr John Fraser and Dr Danny Cass from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Sydney University's Associate Professor Tony Lower got three stars, although he has been one of the most vehement critics of quad bikes.
He likens the lobbying and resistance from quad manufacturers and the automotive industry to change in their design to the campaigns by industries like alcohol, asbestos, food, and tobacco where vested interests "work in contravention of public health outcomes as similar to the strident industry opposition in the face of mounting evidence".
Fear of lawsuits
He said this was about lobbying the minister and sewing the seeds of doubt.
"The bottomline is that it is driven by fear of litigation," said Professor Lower. "They don't want a precedent set here about a design. They talk about helmets but that's not going to help you if you have a 300-kilo quad bike roll on you." With 600 deaths a year and 100,000 injured in the US from quad-related incidents, a decision here could "quite literally cost them billions of dollars", he said.
The FCAI and Mr Kebschull withdrew from the Technical Review Group (TRG) established by the Inter-Departmental Committee, which is led by the Department of Jobs and Employment. It was evaluating a five-star rating system, developed by experts at University of NSW's Transport and Road Safety (TARS) centre.
Mr Kebschull also gave the federal government's Inter-Departmental Committee for Quad Bike Safety a zero.
Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Tony Weber said the organisation had resigned because it had concerns about the direction of the group and that the outcome was predetermined. "We thought that the star rating needed to be evidence based, and it wasn't," he said.
Among those who got a five-star rating were Roy Deppa, another American expert and a former chief engineer of the US Consumer Safety Product Commission who agreed that the five-star rating being developed had some problems.
Mr Weber told Fairfax that Mr Kebschull resigned because he believed the Australian government was "experimenting with the public".
This comment infuriated Emeritus Professor Raphael Grzebieta from UNSW (who scored three stars) and a former president of the Australasian College of Road Safety. He said it was the quad manufacturers who had been experimenting with the public, and had done so by introducing quads with little research into their safety and subsequently refused to change the design despite the evidence showing how dangerous they were.