Quad bike deaths, injuries unacceptable
Two bad accidents, one resulting in the death of a farmer, the other serious injuries to a 6-year-old girl and four adults, have once again thrust the dangers of riding quad bikes into the headlines.
These passing summer headlines, however, are only part of the story. One coroner has estimated that more than 120 people died in quad-bike accidents in the 10 years to 2011. Official statistics show that on farms alone, where most quad bikes are used, an average of five people a year are killed. In addition, 850 people are injured every year in quad-bike accidents. Because of under-reporting of farm accidents, that number probably does not accurately reflect the injury toll.
It is an unacceptable record and despite intensive publicity campaigns by ACC and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, it does not seem to be getting much better. It is little wonder that coroners, who have repeatedly called for stronger compulsory safety measures, have expressed frustration at the lack of action that has resulted from their recommendations.
Some of the deaths and injuries are caused by the foolish behaviour quad bikes seem to attract. A prime example was the accident in the Hawke's Bay during the New Year holiday in which the 6-year-old was injured in a late- night accident on a quad bike overloaded with four adults who had allegedly been drinking.
But even being used sensibly by responsible people, who normally know what they are doing, the machines can be tricky to handle.
Quad bikes began their existence as recreational vehicles and their design has not altered a great deal to take account of the fact that they have been taken up as a handy, all-purpose addition to the range of vehicles used on farms. They are sometimes also known as ATVs, all-terrain vehicles, but that is something of a misnomer. Their use on hillsides, for instance, requires particular care and attention.
In a succession of hearings into deaths in quad-bike accidents in the last few years, several coroners have recommended a variety of measures to improve their safety record. Some, such as advice to riders to wear helmets and not to let children under 16 use them, have been taken up in safety literature, but no new laws have been passed to enforce any of them.
The Wellington coroner, Ian Smith, has complained that the recommendations he has made have been ignored. That is not entirely true. Two of Smith's recommendations have been for compulsory lapbelts and roll bars. Both have been examined by government safety experts and they have found that it is far from clear that those measures would improve safety. Riders need to be free to stand to control the bikes and manufacturers strongly advise against adding roll bars to existing vehicles.
The same cannot be said, however, of forbidding under-age riders to use quad bikes or requiring riders to wear helmets, both of which would obviously lower the risk of accidents and the damage caused by them. Smith is probably correct in his surmise that the resistance to those measures is probably due to the power of the farming lobby. It also should be possible to build a quad bike that incorporates roll bars safely into the design.
The mounting toll in unnecessary grief to the bereaved, along with the costs in payments to the hundreds injured every year, make the time for some such action long overdue.