Farmers will soon be able to compare the stability of quad bikes under a new Australian safety star rating system similar to the one that already applies to all other passenger vehicles.

Quad bikes or ATVs as they are also known, are now the leading cause of death on Australian farms, with 18 people killed in 2012 and another 13 so far this year.

The National Farmers' Federation has called on quad bike manufacturers to commit to a range of measures to ensure greater on-farm safety, including the introduction of a safety star rating system similar to ANCAP - the Australian New Car Assessment Program.

Professor Raphael Grzebieta says it will be based on the findings of a test program now underway at the University of New South Wales' Transport and Road Safety Research Unit.

"We need to look at the safety of these off-road, recreational and farm vehicles and the best way to do that is to apply science," he said.

"That's why we have commenced a three-stage program involving tilt-table testing in a laboratory, dynamic testing of 16 different models at Eastern Creek Raceway and crash worthiness testing."

Recent field trials showed up some alarming preliminary results, with some vehicles tilting on to two wheels while being driven as slow as 20 kilometres per hour in a gentle circle.

The UNSW researchers are also going through coronial reports into 130 quad bike related fatalities and liaising with manufacturers.

"Obviously we are going to make our own decisions about what that testing regime will be and likewise when we start rating these vehicles for safety we'll also be doing that independently," Professor Grzebieta said.

The latest $1.3 million project is being funded by the New South Wales Government.

Workcover NSW's general manager of work health and safety, John Watson, says authorities are increasingly concerned by the rising death toll and issues related to the stability of these versatile and popular vehicles.

"The test program will obviously look at the design of the vehicles and also the fitting of after-market roll bars to prevent riders being trapped under the bikes in the event of a rollover," he said.

He says authorities are also anxious to ensure a greater level of training is available to those operating quad bikes for the first time.

"We know that over 90 per cent of people who purchase these machines don't have any formal training to use them," he said.

"It's also clear that in some cases they are being used irresponsibly and against the specific warnings - particularly when it comes to letting children under 16 years of age ride them, taking passengers and failing to wear helmets and appropriate protective clothing."

Queensland grazier Jim McKenzie agrees that some of the serious problems people have with quad bikes relate to rider experience and common sense.

"We have used them on our place for years without incident - to check stock, water troughs and electric fences," he said.

"They're not really suited to mustering here because we are so heavily-wooded."

Mr McKenzie says making sure people are thoroughly trained and competent is the key.

"Out here the biggest issue operating any sort of vehicle is the distances we cover," he said.

"Every vehicle is fitted with two-way radios and it's the rider's responsibility to make sure they are all in working order.

"Basically what it comes down to is, that out here you've got to be responsible for your own safety."

Mr Watson says it also comes down to farmers assessing what is the best tool to do the job.

"Farmers, as they consider buying new vehicles, need to consider whether quad bikes are the most appropriate bit of machinery to be used on their properties or whether two-wheel bikes or so-called 'side-by-side ATVs' would be better and safer," he said.

"We are hoping the research will provide us with some rating in respect to the stability and usability of the equipment, which will assist farmers in making the right decision for their particular situation."