Quad bike whiners soft in the head

Cry us a river over the $15,000 fine handed out to Marlborough farmhand Rangi Holmes for riding a quad bike helmetless - as was the occasional kid on the back.

Those who have labelled the fine ridiculous haven't been keeping up.

This guy had been seen riding five times with a child on the bike.

Many an angry online commenter has been hammering the message that being "seen" doesn't mean he had fair warning.

However the court story is perfectly clear. This wasn't some stealthy pinged-from-afar piece of official sniping.

WorkSafe New Zealand inspectors had been visiting farms in the area - and copping plenty of grizzles for doing so, we might add.

Those five observations about this rider were spread throughout the 20 months after February 2012. In the midst of that - August - his employer had been issued a notice prohibiting the carrying of passengers on quad bikes and requiring the use of helmets.

Holmes was shown a copy. By October he was seen at it again.

And frankly, though he may be the first convicted of carrying a passenger on a work quad bike, it beggars belief that he didn't already know full well he was breaking the helmet law.

Several laws, really, unless he somehow thought kids' heads are harder than adults'.

So this was defiantly bad behaviour, imperilling lives other than his own.

And yes, sure, the same could be said for many a drunk driver who has passed through the judicial system with fines far, far less than this one.

And how about road cyclists with no helmet?

How very inconsistent.

Maybe so. But much as consistency can be a virtuous thing, if we elevate it on too high a pedestal then we will be seeing it in unwanted areas as well - like the dismal consistency of farm bike accidents out there. On average, five people are killed each year and another 850 injured.

This was a different set of laws than those drink-drivers face. This was workplace safety law, put in place, recently, specifically to address the country's high work accident rate.

If the sentence isn't overturned on appeal, it will set a big old scary precedent. All the more so when you consider farm worker wages.

Unhelmeted farmbike riding has been common practice for decades. It's entrenched. Certainly, education will play a huge part in changing that. But to argue that big fines aren't necessary would be a tad more convincing if the reactions of some of the outraged commentators in this case hadn't been quite so dunderheaded.

Like the Rai Valley locals who complained about how uneasy the WorkSafe inspections were making them., describing how they would put their helmets on because they are being spied on from the road, then go "over the back and take it off again".

One made this comparison: "It's sort of like coming into your office, isn't it, and saying ‘oh, your pencil's not straight'."

Right. Yes. Good point. When are those officials going to do something about the death and injury toll from crooked pencils?

* This was the editorial published in The Southland Times yesterday.

The Southland Times