Quad bike safety about education and training

By Jeanette Maxwell


While it may not seem like it, given recent media coverage, death and serious injury from quad bikes remains relatively uncommon despite about 100,000 machines being in use in New Zealand.

The current quad bike focus by the media indicates it has become desensitised to the road and drowning tolls; already much higher than farming. Safety also happens to be split between various agencies and ministries with each pursuing a different agenda but with finite resources.

As we have as many quad bikes as there are registered motorcycles, I think we can all agree the road is a heavily-regulated environment. Despite this and a police presence to enforce the rules, 45 people have been killed in accidents involving road-going motorcycles in the year to January when I checked. Around 1000 more people were injured in police-reported accidents.

That compares with what seems to have been seven quad bike fatalities over 2012. If I am hesitant, it is because our statistics take time due to coronial processes.

Of the seven quad bike deaths last year, five appear to be farm-related and two seem recreational in nature. Even among the five farm-related deaths, one was caused by electrocution and not the bike.

While "850 people on average" are said to be injured on quads each year, the number of serious harm notifications in 2011/2012 is provisionally 84.

On-farm, speed is less of a factor than loss of control and rollover. A quad bike is like any other bike and needs to be actively ridden by its user. While rollover protection or ROPS has been looked into, the current consensus is that they save as many lives as they take. ROPS changes weight distribution and some also require harnesses to be effective, restricting a user's ability to ride safely.

Newer quad bikes are superior in design and have added safety features. There are also other vehicle choices but to Federated Farmers, the big three are helmets, education and training.

While unconnected to farming, Water Safety New Zealand's Matt Claridge delivered some of the best arguments for training late last year.

Asked if a "water police" was needed to enforce lifejacket use, Claridge was clear it was a change in mindset that was needed. He also said enforcement would suck money away from education where this change needed to come from. Claridge added that a seatbelt would not protect people from reckless driving but education made for better decision-making.

The key points Claridge made that resound with me are for people to take personal responsibility, to accurately assess risk and to be responsible for children.

As quad bike safety messaging is aimed at farmers, my fear is that weekend enthusiasts are being missed out. A helmet will not save you if a quad bike is pushed beyond its limits. Quad bike safety is about education and training to get farmers and recreational users to own the issue.

Adult quad bikes are big and powerful machines demanding physical maturity and training to safely use them. If we are to have a real discussion about regulation then we need to know why and what we are regulating for. Despite the many hours a farmer will sit on one, they remain relatively safer than a road-going motorcycle.

Jeanette Maxwell is Federated Farmers health and safety spokeswoman and is chairwoman of Federated Farmers Meat and Fibre.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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