In an apparent softening of its well publicised criticism of quad bike safety issues, Landcorp has agreed to trial technology aiming to make the vehicles safer.
Landcorp is working with Blue Wing Honda and Blackhawk Tracking Systems to test a device designed to manage driver behaviour, track vehicles and improve communications.
However, the so-called Farm Angel does not address quad bike stability, something Landcorp severely criticised last year. Back in May, citing concerns over safety and stability, the state-owned enterprise restricted use of the vehicles across its 137 properties.
The problems could not be blamed on poor rider training, staff relations and training national manager Al McCone told a FarmSafe rural safety forum in Wellington.
Landcorp staff were trained to use quad bikes, instructed to wear helmets and the vehicle fleet was well maintained, he said.
But despite such measures, at that time there had been 20 Landcorp quad accidents in the five months since December 2012.
Thirteen of these had been roll-overs and at least three had happened on quite gentle country in the middle of paddocks. Low-speed roll-overs could happen astonishingly quickly, in fact within a second.
Mr McCone said quads had become bigger over time with higher centres of gravity, making them easier to tip over but more difficult to push off if a rider was pinned to the ground. Landcorp staff had been encouraged to swap their quad bikes for side-by-sides, light tractors, utilities, two-wheelers or horses, depending on the use required.
Last week, Landcorp general manager for people and capability, Anna Cassels-Brown, noted that quad bikes had been incredibly popular in New Zealand and made a huge contribution, "but they've also had their issues".
"We use them on some properties but they're not always the right tool for the job. In the Central Plateau we manage a cluster of farms with flat terrain, where quad bikes are not used at all.
"Quad bikes can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. The difference will come down to the terrain, decisions you make as to where to take the vehicle, riding technique and the management of loads, weight and balance."
Landcorp had firm protocols, for example not tolerating doubling of passengers on quads and demanding staff used safety equipment. However, developing the Farm Angel technology would further enhance safety, not merely for Landcorp but - once rolled out - for the wider farming community, said Ms Cassels-Brown.
Farm Angel includes a GPS/satellite tracking device, route tracking and monitoring to benchmark rider/driver behaviour including acceleration, speed and tilting.
Alerts are automatically activated if pre-set limits are breached. Hours of use can also be tracked and signals given when servicing is required. The device also determines who can operate an all-terrain vehicle with a key-fob or medical wristband that activates the ignition, stopping use by underage or non-trained riders. If an ATV rolls or tips right over, emergency services or a pre-determined phone number will be automatically alerted, enabling a fast automated response to any remote location for a trapped or injured rider.
Drivers can manually send requests for assistance via the fob or smartphone application. Information gathered is sent to an online or mobile interface, helping with rider behaviour and safety plus the security, servicing and overall management of the quad bike. Blue Wing and Blackhawk plan to market Farm Angel throughout New Zealand and internationally.