Coroner repeats calls for quad bike safety
JOELLE DALLY AND CHARLIE GATES
A popular Rakaia farmer is dead after a quad bike smash, leaving a coroner dismayed and frustrated by "political" resistance to safety improvements.
Hamish Baxter, 45, was found dead on the side of Gardiners Rd, Dorie, during the weekend after crashing his quad bike while heading out to check on irrigation.
The death of the father of three, who was well-known in the Mid-Canterbury farming community, is the latest in a string of quad-bike tragedies despite strong recommendations from a senior coroner over several years for improved safety measures.
In January 2011, Wellington coroner Ian Smith recommended mandatory helmets, lapbelts and roll bars, while blasting authorities for a lack of action. His call followed similar recommendations he made in 2009 with Palmerston North coroner Tim Scott after two deaths in the lower North Island.
Smith said yesterday he was "extremely frustrated" that repeated calls for greater safety measures on quad bikes had not been implemented while deaths and injuries continued to happen.
"These are unnecessary losses of life. As a coroner, when you repeatedly go into an issue and consider all the evidence and you are faced with it again, you think: ‘What's the point?'
"I don't know what the reasons are [for the lack of safety regulation]. Probably political and economic. The farming lobby has rallied against any suggestions we have come up with.
"Quad bikes are inherently dangerous. There is no other way to describe it. You load them up with chemicals or other people and change the centre of gravity. They lull you into a false sense of security. I've become extremely frustrated over a period of time with the quad bike issue."
Quad-bike riders must wear safety helmets under NZ Transport Agency rules, but farmers are exempt if they are travelling under 30 kilometres-per-hour from one part of their farm to another.
However, Federated Farmers agricultural health and safety spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell said the organisation constantly pushed the quad bike safety message to farmers regarding wearing helmets, chest protectors and other safety mechanisms.
It was recreational users where there was a "gap".
"These accidents are really sad and they are preventable," she said.
"Often we find with farmers who have an accident, it's that split second of distraction . . . rather than going too fast."
Sergeant Sean Buchanan said Baxter had gone out to routinely check his irrigation system about 11pm on Saturday and briefly stopped in at a house on the farm to visit a farm worker.
People from the house found Baxter lying dead on the side of the road about 10 minutes later and unsuccessfully attempted CPR.
Baxter was not wearing a helmet.
Friend and neighbour Neil Brown said Baxter was "a great fellow" who was passionate about farming and "a good family man".
He was well-respected and liked in the community, which was still in shock over the death.
"We're taking one day at a time at the moment," Brown said.
Brown said Baxter had been farming most of his life, converting his current farm at Dorie into a dairy operation about 12 months ago.
"Farming was a passion and he was very good at it," Brown said.
Baxter is survived by his wife, Louise, and three teenage daughters.
January 6 – Te Haroto, Hawke's Bay. A man, 50, suffers spinal injuries.
January 2 – Waimarama, Hawke's Bay. Ashlee Shorrock, 6, suffers serious injuries while riding with four drunk adults.
December 31 – South Taranaki. A man, 45, suffers a broken leg and internal injuries.
December 28 – Wairarapa. A man, 60, suffers internal injuries as bike rolls down muddy hill.
December 26 – Marks Bay, South Otago. Rowan Parker, 16, is killed after riding over a cliff.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment health and safety operations manager Ona de Rooy urged farmers to "make safety a priority" this year, warning penalties would be imposed if riders breached existing rules.
The NZTA requires all quad bikes driven on public roads to be registered, licensed and have a current warrant of fitness.
Drivers must hold a driver's licence and wear an approved safety helmet. NZTA guidelines warn that carrying passengers makes quad bikes more likely to tip over.
- The Press