If making quad bikes safer is the smart thing to do, then don’t expect MPs to get it done

Some people seem to think passing a new law will take care of just about anything, including the prevention of death and maybe baldness, too.

Take the case of the Wellington coroner, a bloke called Ian Smith, who is reported to have denounced Parliament for failing to bolster laws to make quad bikes safer.

He reckons such changes could have saved the life of a young beekeeper.

Maybe they would.

But we have laws to deal with murderers, and they don’t stop murders; we have laws to deal with thieves, and they don’t stop theft; we even have a Fiscal Responsibility Act to foster fiscal responsibility, although it can not ensure fiscal responsbility, especially under a Labour government.


So how – exactly – will a new law make quad bikes safe?

Let’s see.

At an inquest yesterday into the 2008 death of Jody Santos, 21, on a road at Riversdale Beach near Masterton, Mr Smith said he had “had enough” of coroners’ recommendations falling on deaf ears.

More than 100 people, many children, have died in quad bike accidents in the past 10 years. There are more than 70,000 quad bikes, also known as all-terrain vehicles in New Zealand.

“How many more deaths do we have to put up with? As a coroner I am absolutely sick of this and yet myself and other coroners have made endless recommendations.

“I am at my wits’ end. I don’t get the hang of what Parliament is doing … the legislation we currently have to deal with quad bike safety is a mish-mash mess, in my view,” Mr Smith said at the hearing yesterday.

So what transpired at the inquest that triggered this assault on we hard-working (etc) members of Parliament?

For starters, we learn that Mr Santos had never ridden a quad bike before.

He had been working with Masterton-based PA and SC Steens Honey for only two weeks when the quad bike he was riding rolled on August 19, 2008.

It was an unregistered, unwarranted bike borrowed from a farmer.

Whether a registration sticker or warrant would make it immune from rolling is doubtful.

The young man died in Wellington Hospital three days later.

The company has been dealt with on the matter of the lack of training.

His employers pleaded guilty to failing to ensure he was trained and certified as being able to drive a quad bike safely. They were fined $78,000 and ordered to pay $60,000 to Mr Santos’ parents, who work for the same company.

The Dom-Post goes on to say that coroners have repeatedly recommended law changes to make it mandatory for quad bikes to be fitted with roll bars and seatbelts, and for all riders to wear helmets.

But how many more officials will be needed to police such a law?

The mind boggles. Traffic cops all over our farmlands.

Mr Smith said yesterday that those recommendations were “the minimum”.

“For goodness sake, why can’t we get these three lifesaving things on a quad bike? I have to deal with inquests like this for what could have been a totally preventable death for this young man if laws had been tougher over safety.

“We can’t bring Jody back, but what I can do is try to stop it from happening to anyone else.”

Alf could further recommend that all hills on farms be flattened, to make riding these machines on them safer.

Fair to say, the criticism hasn’t got past first base with the Government.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the only way to guarantee that nobody died from a quad bike accident was to ban all quad bikes, which she would not do.

“We’re very aware of the danger ATVs pose and we work closely with Federated Farmers to ensure safe use of tractors and quad bikes are a priority for farmers. Ultimately, only the people using these vehicles can guarantee their own safety on their own land. The Government can’t police farms on a daily basis.”

Alf does agree the stats are bothersome.

Quad bikes have been involved in at least 103 deaths since 2000, for example, although the Labour Department says there is no accurate measure of the number of accidents and deaths because it only investigates workplace incidents.

The figures are sourced from a combination of Labour Department figures, and national health and hospital records.

Almost 30 per cent of all agricultural deaths involve quad bikes.

In the four years to 2009 there were 8211 new injury claims lodged with ACC stemming from all-terrain vehicle accidents.

But Alf remains unconvinced about the life-saving properties of a piece of legislation.

If people want to avoid a premature death on a quad bike, they shouldn’t wait for Parliament to pass a law. They should simply install the safety gear regardless.

On the other hand, if making quad bikes safer is a smart thing to do, wouldn’t it make sense to keep politicians out of it?

2 Responses to If making quad bikes safer is the smart thing to do, then don’t expect MPs to get it done

  1. Gravedodger says:

    Hi Alf the very first ATV accident I witnessed, occurred during my days grubbing for a living as a real estate agent a little to the south of your seat in the 80s.
    A client who for legal reasons shall remain incognito was about as enthusiastic as he had been since the All Blacks beat the Boks in 56, with his brand new Suzuki. In his haste to show me the wonders of the machine he leapt aboard and flew backwards out of the shed on a very tight arc and flipped the damn thing over.
    The main damage was to his pride and a little bit of collateral around his shoulders.
    In any of my personal indiscretions with these very useful additions to the equipment of our farmers, the last thing I would want is either a rollbar to clout me as the machine overtook me on its inevitable path down the bloody hill, or to be tied to the machine as it does its impression of boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard.
    In the sanitised world of the coronial court the facts will become blurred as the pure stats of incidents are revealed and the practical reality takes a back seat. Two of the main contributions to the admittedly bad stats are the inability of small and physically challenged persons to control what are now very large machines and the inexperience, as outlined above, re the Bee-man, of the many who underestimate the potential for disaster.
    Hell I recall the first ATV I purchased for my hungry acres in the eastern hills of the Wairarapa, a Honda Trike. The places I avoided in the early days compared to where I would go as confidence grew, was, to put it mildly, awesome.
    New Machines are adorned with warning stickers about inappropriate use, passengers, overloading and other perils but they are nearly always ignored, even if the said stickers have survived. The one single thing to be remembered is personal responsibility as regards learning and operating them, neither of which will be improved with legislation.

  2. Deanna says:

    I was raised on a dairy farm since birth. I know all about farm accidents.
    Last year my 6yr old daughter had her head crushed under a quad bike. She had multiple fractures to her skull. She has been left blind in one eye and the nerves in the other badly damaged.
    She was wearing her push bike helmet. It did save her life. As did the neuro surgeons etc..
    What would have been more helpful? Her mother knowing all the statistics before hand. Having laws making motor bike helmets compulsary. No under 12yr old passengers. No under 16yr old drivers.
    She was a passenger, the driver 15 yrs with no driving experiance (unknow to me at the time).
    On average 5 children are killed and over 300 hospitalized per year in the last couple of years.
    Now imagine if this was child abuse cases. Well in a way it is. The children are defenceless.
    The farmers ,they can decide for themselves. But ignorant parents and children ,they don’t know the facts. 400kg on your head can cause a lot of damage.
    But who will police it all? Who really needs to. The uncaring never worry about laws. Look at the number of children not in car seats. But those parents who do care for the safety of their children, they care. They follow the rules and abide to the laws of this country. Laws are in place to keep people safe.
    ACC pay out millions every year for quad bike accidents on children alone. Does the tax payer care about that? The government should care.
    I just worry now about all the other parents who are still to go through what I did or even worse, because the government didn’t care enough.

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