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Roll bars for ATVs discussed at U.S. safety commission summit

November 01, 2012

A utility ATV with a Quadbar safety device.

Photo courtesy Quadbar Australia

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sponsored an ATV Safety Summit Oct. 11-12 in Bethesda, Md., and one topic of discussion involved roll bars for ATVs.

David Robertson, founder of the company Quadbar Australia, made a presentation on his Quadbar Crush Protection Device, which is a hairpin-shaped hoop mounted on the ATV behind the rider. He says his device, which he only makes for utility quads, has been used successfully in Australia for a number of years and has proven effective at preventing injuries and deaths associated with ATV rollovers.

He noted that Monash University in Australia defines a crush protection device as a structure designed to form a protective space between the ATV and the ground in the event of roll over. Those devices aim to prevent or reduce rider injuries incurred due to crushing or asphyxiation, he says.

“In general, CPDs are not designed to be used with occupant restraints, thereby allowing the use of active riding techniques and rider separation from the vehicle during loss of control events,” he says.

Raphael Grzebieta, professor of Transport and Road Safety Research at the University of New South Wales in Australia, noted that 2003 research showed that about half of Australia’s ATV fatalities and injuries were caused by the vehicle rolling on top of the rider with resultant crush injuries and/or pinning them down causing asphyxia.

That research found: “Computer modeling demonstrates it is possible to design a practical [rollover protection system] that prevents such deaths and injuries,” and was critical of ATV safety efforts relying on educating riders. Instead, the study suggested that more attention needed to be paid to the ATV.

“That is, ATV safety is considered to depend on rider separation from the vehicle and the addition of protective clothing and [a] helmet,” the study found. “Simply put, such safe philosophies are ill conceived and dangerous for ATV riders. They do not offer any protection in the most common modes of injury with ATVs—rollovers, nor collisions.”

Grzebieta more recently did research on the Quadbar. He determined that the “addition of the Quadbar to an ATV would help mitigate the injuries resulting from most rear rollover scenarios and some low-speed, low-slope scenarios. It does not appear to influence the outcome of higher-speed cases as it provides no occupant restraint."

Jim Helmkamp, senior epidemiologist for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Western States Office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested that between 35 percent and 65 percent of ATV crashes involve tipping, flipping or rolling.

“There has been much research underpinning these types of incidents, but little attention to identifying effective engineering solutions to minimize the risk in the event of a rollover,” he says. “The Quadbar can be an important safety modification that can have immediate impact to reduce death and injury from rollovers.”

He concluded that ATV manufacturers should consider fitting ATVs with the Quadbar or similar devices.

While roll bars had their supporters, they also had a major critic: Paul Vitrano, executive vice president of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America. The SVIA is a manufacturers’ organization and the American National Standards Institute-accredited standards-developing organization for the four-wheel ATV standard.

Vitrano noted that ATV manufacturers strive to constantly improve and innovate their vehicles. But the pursuit of innovation, he says, “must be balanced against the imperative to only introduce proven technologies that will not lead to unintended consequences.”

And roll bars and roll cages could, in fact, introduce new safety risks, he says.

He noted that in 1998 the CPSC staff met with ATV manufacturer and other engineers, and a forum was held on ATVs to discuss what measures, if any could be taken to reduce ATV injuries and deaths. The commission didn’t recommend roll bars or cages at that time.

In public forums on ATV safety in 2003, the CPSC again demonstrated no interested in pursuing ATV roll bars, he says.

Vitrano also pointed to research done by Grzebieta that says: “The Quadbar appears to be an increased risk in frontal rollovers as the Quadbar may come into contact with the rider when the full weight of the ATV is behind it.”

Adding a roll bar or roll cage to an ATV could have unintended consequences and risks, Vitrano said, including altering the ATV’s center of gravity, which would reduce stability; impeding the operator’s ability to dismount to the rear; potentially impeding the ability to remove an ATV from on top of a rider; and it potentially gets caught on vegetation or other terrain features that could cause a crash, reduce mobility and reduce the utility of the machine.

In addition, Vitrano pointed out that a roll bar or roll cage could hit an operator in the event of a crash, including the head or torso, posing a significant risk to unhelmeted riders; makes the roll of an ATV unpredictable and maybe even more violent, which could reduce the rider’s ability to avoid the ATV, and may increase impacts and/or forces between a rider and an ATV and/or the ground.

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