Editorial: Farmers need quad bikes ban

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Kiwi kids should not be wrapped in cotton wool, most of us agree. They should be allowed to play as past generations did, with the inevitable bruised elbows and grazed knees. This is how children challenge themselves, develop their strength and coordination, and learn about risks and consequences.

This Christmas, parents will give their children toys in the knowledge that, used imaginatively, their children may well find ways of hurting themselves.

But quad bikes are not toys.

The death last weekend of six-year-old Amber Vincent was a tragic reminder - as if we needed another - that quad bikes kill kids. Even so-called children's ATVs are dangerous, even with safety helmets.

And many farm children are driving full-sized quads.

Big ATVs like some in the Outlander or Polaris ranges can pack 800 to 850cc of punch - more powerful than a small car - and can weigh up to 480kg.

Of 218 children admitted to hospital after quad bike accidents, few were riding the small 50cc ATVs. Most were on full-sized bikes bought by their parents for the hard grunt of farmwork.

These were designed for carrying hay bales, or bundles of fence posts - not small children.

The research is unanimous: the voluntary guidelines aren't working. Those guidelines, agreed by health agencies and rural organisations such as Federated Farmers, say children under 12 should not be allowed to drive ATVs.

Yet, ACC figures show that the number of ATV injury claims for children increased ten-fold from 2002 to 2006.

One of those children was only two years old, when he was left briefly unsupervised in the backyard on a small 50cc quad bike. He was found unconscious under the machine. That little boy spent six days in Starship children's hospital with head injuries.

He was lucky: at least 16 children died in that same period.

Four-year-old Molly Vanner was killed on the family farm when she was allowed to operate a 368kg ATV while her father Gavin took a call. It rolled on her, shattering her skull.

Gavin Vanner was acquitted of manslaughter, but he will suffer the pain of his daughter's death the rest of his days. And his trial exposed a rift between urban and rural New Zealand.

Many city-dwellers - perhaps more prone to a cotton wool mentality - could not comprehend how young children could be allowed to drive such big machines, repeatedly proven to be dangerous.

Those who lived on farms and rural areas agreed that unsupervised use of ATVs by children was not ideal - but, they said, needs must. Farmers work long and unusual hours. The nearest childcare centre may be 50km or more away.

Families work and play together on their farms - and their kids learn to be strong and independent.

Yet Waikato University's Dr Maxine Campbell says thousands of city families deal with work hours that are similarly incompatible with childcare, or face childcare commutes at least as long as farmers do.

What is needed are innovative solutions, she writes, rather than parents acquiescing to putting their children at risk.

One of those solutions could be greater government childcare support for rural families.

But, ultimately, the voluntary guidelines aren't working and children are still being hurt. The Government must legislate to make it a crime to allow a child to ride a quad bike.

Yes, the rural community in particular will resist. But so too did cyclists resist helmet laws, and motorists resist seatbelt laws. Both those laws saved children's lives - and now, we buckle on the helmet or click the seatbelt without pause.

And beyond that, a law change will not just protect the lives of small children.

By clarifying that grey area of judgment around whether children should be allowed to drive quad bikes, parents like Gavin Vanner will be spared the grief and guilt of blaming themselves for their child's death.

- Herald on Sunday

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