Alarm over off-road toll

Federated Farmers Otago president says children on four-wheeled bikes are a reality of rural life despite damning statistics and some calling for a ban.

A report released yesterday said off-road vehicle accidents accounted for the second-highest number of recreational deaths of children, behind only swimming and other water activities.

The findings focused on four-wheeled bikes, which accounted for more than a third of the deaths, and highlighted children's vulnerability when using vehicles designed for adults.

Federated Farmers Otago president Stephen Korteweg said the statistics were ''pretty alarming'', but the practicalities of farm life meant children would continue to drive off-road vehicles, and particularly four-wheeled bikes.

He called for greater care, greater supervision from adults and more common sense.

''Quite often it's not the children on farms who get hurt, it's children visiting,'' he said.

''They are a tool on farm. They are a fact of life and they are here to stay. But we all - both urban and rural - need to use them with more respect.''

The report, by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee, said 33 children were killed in off-road vehicle accidents between 2002 and 2012. Nearly half were using the vehicles recreationally.

The report showed from 2002 to 2012, 15 children died while operating motorcycles and 12 on four-wheeled bikes. The youngest victim was under 5. Twenty-two children were operating the vehicles by themselves.

Otago had the highest number of deaths of children and young people operating motorcycles, four-wheeled bikes and motorised agricultural vehicles in off-road settings. Nine people up to the age of 24 died in Otago during the reporting period.

Review committee chairwoman Dr Felicity Dumble said the vehicles needed to be treated with greater care.

''Too often, parents and caregivers fail to recognise the dangers these powerful machines pose for children,'' she said.

''Inexperience, inadequate physical size and strength, as well as immature motor and cognitive development, all add to the risks for children.

''Risks are further increased when vehicles are used outside the scope of the manufacturer's design and safety guidelines.''

Safekids Aotearoa director Ann Weaver called for parents to stop children operating four-wheeled bikes.

''The evidence is clear. Parents should not allow children on quad bikes as they are potentially lethal,'' she said.

Safekids Aotearoa statistics show 30 children die or are admitted to hospital yearly due to four-wheeled bike injuries.

Dr Dumble said the committee recommended children under 16 should never operate adult-sized four-wheeled bikes and children under 6 should never operate any off-road vehicle.

A growing number of international authorities and organisations recommend children under 16 should not be in control of four-wheeled bikes of any size.

The committee also recommended ACC take a lead role and the police serious crash unit should be involved with all deaths caused by motor vehicles.

Mr Korteweg said he agreed greater safety needed to be considered by all on-farm motor vehicle users.

''We aren't dismissive of it, but it's [four-wheeled bikes] a much-used vehicle and it's an asset rather than a liability,'' he said.

''But it needs to be used with more respect.''

timothy.brown@odt.co.nz

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