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Should quad bikes be banned as they are too dangerous?
Stopping the use of quad bikes in farming has been raised as a prospect by a coroner in his written findings into five deaths related to their use.
But in findings released today, Coroner Brandt Shortland stopped short of including a ban among his recommendations, saying the quad bike was entrenched as a vital farm tool.
"The other consideration is to stop using quad bikes in farming altogether," he said.
"There have been projects examining this concept in both Australia and New Zealand on large commercial operations."
But he did make a series of recommendations, after examining the Northland deaths of Carlos Mendoza (Dargaville); John McInnes (Hikurangi) and Suzanne Ferguson (Kaikohe), and the deaths of Albany man Grant Cornelius and Willem Van Der Pasch, from Otorohanga in Waikato.
He suggested quad bike riders:
- Be trained and have the experience required to ride a quad bike in their work
- Always wear a helmet
- Choose the right vehicle for the right job
He also recommended:
- Children should be prevented from riding adult quad bikes
- Quad bikes should not be referred to as "all-terrain vehicles", as that was "misleading"
- Regular testing of after-market attachments, to ensure they did not upset the quad bikes' stability
In his findings on the deaths, Shortland found:
- Mendoza died after spending at least two days trapped beneath his quad bike when it overturned during weed-spraying in September 2010. He had been smoking cannabis between 30 minutes to five hours before his death.
- McInnes was spraying a hilly slope for weeds when his quad bike rolled and crushed him to death in September 2010.
- Ferguson died when trapped between her quad bike and an electric fence after trying to tow a trailer of silage up a hill in August 2010.
- Cornelius was weed-spraying when he was found dead, pinned under his quad bike in September 2011. He had cannabis in his system consistent with smoking a single cannabis cigarette within three hours of his death.
- Van Der Pasch died of a terminal head injury when his quad bike rolled on to his head in September 2011.
Shortland recommended the continuation of training and education for quad bike users to ensure the limitations and frailties of the machines were known but said that no amount of education could save everyone.
"Unfortunately, training and education cannot teach common sense or good judgement," he said.
Nevertheless, training could teach the realities of poor quad-biking decisions, such as riding them on hilly, sloped terrain and that death and injury could occur even when in slow motion or when turning, he said.
He also suggested consideration be given to supporting a task-force to research roll-over protection (ROP) devices.
He described the debate between manufacturers and experts of the use of such devices as a "Mexican standoff".
Manufacturers believed ROP devices could cause a quad bike to become even more unstable, but experts were now disputing this, Shortland said.
He also recommended that helmets should be worn at all times during use but it is unknown if this would have prevented most of the deaths in these cases.
Shortland also noted many New Zealand farmers were transferring from quad bikes to all-terrain vehicles and small vehicles with a genuine utility role.
As part of his inquests in April into the five deaths, Shortland invited submissions on quad bike issues from experts and involved parties.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said it would call together all the parties involved with quad bikes – manufacturers, farming leaders, community leaders, trainers and the regulator – to work through how the recommendations could be implemented.
''These findings and recommendations give weight, in the Ministry's view, to the need to continue focusing on reducing the death and injury toll associated with quad bike use in agricultural settings,'' health and safety operation general manager Ona de Rooy said.
On average five people are killed and 850 are injured on quad bikes on farms every year.
''The Ministry supports the intent of Coroner Shorthand’s recommendations, although not all recommendations are within the Ministry’s ability to implement, the breadth and significance of them must not be lost to the sector.''
Its forum would consider what other actions could be taken to reduce the deaths and injuries from inappropriate quad bike use.