We do a lot of ATV training in this business and we’re always keen to pursue and promote the safest means of transport when using an ATV. There’s been on average over the last few years around 15-22 people dying in Australia whilst using an ATV and it’s a statistic that frankly is way-too-high and as a nation we should be ashamed of. In response Australian legislators have reacted and have been pushing the notion of retro-fitment of rollover protection systems (ROPS) to bikes already in circulation and encouraging bike makers to fit them as new and original equipment at the point of sale. The bike industry have reacted to the recommendations by commissioning their own research which is pretty damning to the pro-ROPS community. There’s a 15 minute video on the ATVSafety.com.au website that shows the research and the conclusions they’ve drawn and if you have an interest in this you should watch it.
We’ve been worried since Safe Work Australia made it a hotter potato than it already was with their ringing endorsement of ROPs. Personally we think they’re going about it the wrong way.
The overwhelming majority of ATV deaths and injuries happen on farms. We know the reason why because we see it all the time… complacency. It’s not good enough to jump on a machine under-prepared or under-dressed. When you throw caution to the wind something will go wrong. Might not be today, but next week, next month… There’s a host of other reasons why and we’ve identified a few below.
With all other vehicles we use on roads and tracks we make enforceable mandatory recommendations on driver/rider safety, yet for some reason ATVs aren’t caught up in that net. It’s simply not good enough that Government propose a solution that gives them a quick-fix and makes the issue go away (until the next person dies), when a better way exists in changing the minset and practice of the rider. Here’s our take on what needs to change:
- Make helmet usage compulsory – as the FCAI say in their campaign “Wear It or Park It”. And a further point. An open-face helmet isn’t safe. You should be wearing a full-face MX style lid of an Australian Standard approved construction, so we can put a lid on brain injury AND facial damage including soft tissue reconstruction and dental reconstruction.
- Complete the picture with proper PPE – the helmet’s the biggie but it needs to be supplemented with gloves, long sleeves or jacket, long pants, leather boots as any exposed skin will be torn to shreds. We’d even go so far as to recommend back protectors if you’re really serious about protecting yourself.
- No training – no ride! – rider training can make a massive difference. In other industries the practice of chucking a set of keys to a new driver and sending them on their way with no experience or understanding is long gone. Why is it OK to put a new rider with no prior knowledge on an ATV then? You might argue what could go wrong, it’s being used at slow speed and the risk is low? There’s plenty of risk and without being shown appropriate start-up procedures, loading and unloading, braking, steering, shifting body mass, ascending, descending and decommission, you’ll likely hurt yourself. Training fixes the majority of potential disasters in as little as a day’s worth of instruction. It’s cheap insurance.
- Is your ATV trackworthy – riding a bike that’s crook is just dumb. Time after time we see bikes with tyre pressures set wholly wrong. This is the single most important component to get right in the stability stakes. Using a regular tyre pressure gauge will give you the wrong result. Only a LOW pressure gauge will allow you to accurately measure the low pressures that flotation ATV tyres demand, as little as 25Kpa (3.6psi) on average depending on machine and weight/payload. Whilst we’re on tyres what condition are they in? Bald tyres are scrap, so too are tyres that have deep cuts, or have been repeatedly plugged with temporary repairs, spend the money and keep rubber on the machine that has some grip and in serviceable condition. Crook chassis, suspension and brakes only add to the drama.
- Underage riding is a no-no – clearly stamped on the guard of any ATV is a warning that only riders over 16 years of age are permitted and only then whilst wearing a helmet. If you’re in the habit of “dinking” a passenger you’ve failed too for it’s only possible on bikes that are “twins”, having a seat and wheelbase to accommodate it.
- Riding whilst pissed is a no-no – any acohol intake will render some degree of impairment and you simply can’t afford anything getting in the way whilst you’re in control of an ATV. Same can also be said of being dehydrated on a hot day. Not keeping the water intake up will result in a similar impairment.
- Riding too big a bike isn’t smart either – BIG is always BETTER! Not with an ATV. For the most part a mid-size ATV will do most jobs more than satisfactorily. An engine-size of 350-500cc will deliver on most occasions (modern EFI engines have tonnes of grunt) for the workplace, the only time a 600+cc machine might be required is for a towing application. Smaller machines weigh less too and are less likey to cause the early-onset of rider fatigue. EPS (electric power steering) models help in the fatigue stakes by a huge margin.
- 2WD ATVs are a waste of space – a 2WD ATV might be an enticing proposition on paper, but in the field they’re dangerous! A 4WD bike comes with double the grip and some will offer enhanced 4WD capability in the form of axle diff-locks for greater mobility. A 4WD ATV will outhandle, outbrake, outclimb, outdescend a 2WD bike every time.
- Pick your day – riding in the pouring rain or on a 40C day is asking for trouble. When the elements are against you go find something else to do!
- Consider a side-by-side – a traditional ATV is a marvellous invention affording incredible mobility, but there’s limits to what it can do and carry. For trickier jobs with heavier payloads you should be using a side-by-side (guess what, that’ll come with ROPS and seatbelts because it’s designed to).