Some makers are resisting, but one's keen

Quad bike design gets a lot of flak in Driven.

Appalled at the high injury rate among riders of these machines, we've said that rather than making changes such as the fitting of roll protection, an entirely new ATV concept should be designed and developed.

But have we been fair?

Quad bike manufacturers could argue that though it's nice to be an armchair critic, outdoor jobs such as farming and forestry work are always going to be dangerous.


So presumably they're always going to have vehicle crashes, some resulting in death and injury. And though I am a longtime quad bike sceptic, I can see that such an argument has some merit.

The debate has been somewhat subjective, informed by those appalling safety statistics, the fact that quads were originally designed for recreational use and some alarming examples of instability.

But if quad bikes are really so poorly designed, where are the hard facts? And what if a quad bike manufacturer were selling a bike far less likely to tip over than the rest? How would we know if this were the case, and if it were, how unfair of Driven to damn the good bikes with the bad ones.

Well, thanks to those pragmatic Aussies this kind of argument could soon be satisfied. In Australia, where quads are the leading cause of deaths on farms, the National Farmers Federation wants to put the issue on to a more factual basis.

It is backing a plan by the University of New South Wales' transport and road safety unit to test quads and side-by-sides to create a comparative safety star rating system.

"We need to look at the safety of these off-road, recreational and farm vehicles and the best way to do that is apply science," says the university's Professor Raphael Grzebieta. "That's why we have commenced a three-stage programme involving tilt-table testing, testing of 16 different models at Eastern Creek Raceway and crash worthiness testing."

Such things have been common in the car world for many years. And you'd think everyone would be happy to have impartial testing of quad bikes by a university - but apparently that's not so.

Trials have shown up some alarming preliminary results, including some vehicles tilting on to two wheels while being driven as slowly as 20km/h, in a gentle circle.

Some manufacturers are believed to have threatened to disrupt the quad bike star rating programme by using legal action.

One of the star performers to emerge from testing has been an Australian-built off-road vehicle called the Tomcar.

It's the adaptation of an ATV designed for military use in Israel. The Tomcar can reach an astonishing 45deg angle before tipping over, can travel down an almost vertical drop, and carry a one-tonne load.

The people behind this pricey (probably $25,000-$30,000 in New Zealand) vehicle want the star rating system to proceed as soon as possible.

In this, they're probably as motivated as those others whose bikes have been shown up as inferior, who wish to close it down.

Tomcar Australia safety features
*The only completely welded tubular steel frame in the industry, making it amazingly strong and protective.
*Extremely low centre of gravity, dramatically reducing risk of roll-over.
*Sliding bucket seats with racing style four-point harnesses.
*Adjustable tilt steering column.
*Automotive safety glass windshield.
*Integral safety side-steps, creating a cocoon around the occupant.