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Education will help quad bike safety

Education will help quad bike safety

Jeanette Maxwell is Federated Farmers Health & Safety spokesperson and is chairperson of Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre and a version has been published in the Dominion Post.

Quad bikes have been in the news following two deaths and several injuries over the Christmas and New Year period.

Most incomprehensible was the incident in which 6-year-old Ashlee Shorrock suffered serious injuries after being flung from a quad bike that veered off a Hawke's Bay road late at night. What were she and the four adults also injured in the crash doing on the bike in the first place?

However, while it may not seem like it from the intense media coverage, quad bike deaths and serious injuries remain relatively rare despite the 100,000 machines in New Zealand.

While quad bikes are dangerous if mishandled and the farm toll is serious and must come down, we fear that politicians will respond to the media coverage by jumping at ''solutions''. In one episode of Britain's Yes Prime Minister, a prime minister worried about his low popularity decides to act on a press-fuelled scandal. The Cabinet secretary asks when he reached such a momentous decision, to which the prime minister replies: ''today, when I read the papers''.

While we grieve for Rakaia's Hamish Baxter, found lying beside his quad bike on January 5; there is no surge in farm-related quad bike deaths.

New Zealand has more quad bikes than registered motorcycles. Motorcycle riders must be licensed and their bikes registered and warranted. Police enforce helmet use and other road safety laws.

Yet, despite such a heavily regulated environment, 45 people were killed in accidents involving motorcycles last year. Over 1000 were injured.

Motorcycle riders must be licensed and their bikes registered and warranted. They are also ridden on maintained roads surrounded by other licensed road users driving registered and warranted vehicles. There is also a police presence to enforce helmet use and other road safety laws.

When it comes to quad bikes, there seem to have been seven quad bike fatalities in 2012. If I am hesitant, it is because statistics take time to finalise.

Of those seven quad bike deaths, five appear to have been farm-related and two recreational in nature. Of the five farm-related deaths, one was not related to the vehicle. Horrendously, it was caused by electrocution.

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

The quad bike focus indicates sections of our media seem to have become desensitised to the larger road and drowning tolls. Safety also happens to be split between various agencies and ministries, with each pursuing a different agenda with finite resources.

If we are to regulate quad bikes then it begs the question of why and what. On the 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 consensus is that it takes as many lives as it saves. Rollover protection changes weight distribution and can 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 issues are helmets, education and training.

While unconnected to farming, Water Safety New Zealand's Matt Claridge delivered compelling arguments for education and training on RadioLIVE late last year.

Asked if ''water police'' were needed to enforce lifejacket use, Mr Claridge said what was needed was a change in mindset. He also said education would deliver the biggest gain. Mr Claridge added that a seatbelt did not protect people from reckless driving but education helped them to make better decisions.

People need to take personal responsibility, they need to learn how to accurately assess risk and be responsible around children.

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

Adult quad bikes are big and powerful machines demanding physical maturity and training to safely use them. Despite the many hours a farmer will sit on one, they remain relatively safer than a motorcycle.

If we are to have a real discussion about regulation then we need to know why and what we are regulating for.

© Scoop Media

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