OPINION: A terrible spate of quad bike crashes has underlined the need for their safer use on rural properties.
A father-of-three and a talented teenager are dead and eight others have suffered serious injuries in five separate quad bike crashes in the last fortnight.
Since 2006 there have been at least 33 quad bike deaths, and Government figures show that every year 850 people are injured in quad bike accidents on farms.
A senior coroner is unequivocal that quad bike riders should be required to wear helmets, have lapbelts and the machines should be fitted with rollbars to prevent more unnecessary deaths.
Wellington coroner Ian Smith made those recommendations after investigating quad bike fatalities in 2009 and 2011, and is frustrated that little has been done to prevent "unnecessary losses of life".
He suspects political and economic factors, including the powerful voice of the farming lobby, have stopped greater action.
Under current rules, quad bike helmets are mandatory only on public roads. However, farmers don't have to wear them if they travel under 30kmh on roads to another part of their farm or an adjoining farm.
On rural properties there are no specific laws about helmets, training, rider age, passengers and towing limits.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, formerly the Labour Department, has run a quad bike safety campaign in the last two years, and says it has boosted safety awareness.
Federated Farmers says many farmers take quad bike safety seriously and it points the finger at recreational users.
Of the recent spate, the Hawke's Bay accident that left a 6-year-old girl seriously injured after she came off with four intoxicated adults who took their bike on a late night spin is in a category of its own stupidity.
But the recent deaths have been on farms, including a Mid-Canterbury farmer at the weekend who crashed when checking on irrigation. Whether the accidents are related to recreation or work seems beside the point of trying to improve safety.
The ministry's quad bike campaign focuses on keeping children off adult machines, always wearing helmets, and ensuring riders are trained and experienced enough. But after two years of the campaign, the death toll remains at about five a year and injuries are not coming down.
The ministry says research shows that farmers are aware of the steps that can prevent accidents but fail to take them.
The successful road safety campaigns have used a combination of education, backed by strong enforcement.
The ministry has been carrying out quad bike inspections on farms and issuing safety notices, but it's time to give it more teeth. The mandatory wearing of helmets would be a good start.
In the end it's up to those using or providing the bikes to make sensible decisions. More tragic deaths on farms is no way to learn.
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