Quad bike debate heats up

The debate over quad bike use is heating up as groups argue over how further deaths can be prevented.

A spate of quad-bike accidents over the Christmas holiday period ending in death and injury has led to renewed calls for better safety around bike use, but involved groups disagree over what should be done to improve user safety and who should take ownership of the issue.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said farmers needed to make quad bike safety a priority but Federated Farmers hit back, saying it was recreational users, not farmers, who were not getting the safety messages.

There were five quad bike incidents over the Christmas-New Year break, two ending in fatalities.

Wellington Coroner Ian Smith voiced frustration over the issue, calling on the Government to investigate making helmets, lap belts and roll bars compulsory on quad bikes, but parties disagree about whether these features would work.

MBIE spokeswoman Ona de Rooy urged farmers to consider their stress and fatigue levels, as forgetting to check the bike before heading out or making a small mistake because of fatigue can lead to "fatal consequences".

The focus of safety messages should be casual users, argued Federated Farmers spokeswoman for health and safety Jeanette Maxwell, as unlike farmers they often received little or no training around how to ride the bikes safety.

Farms had to include bike safety as part of their health and safety plans while recreational users could buy and use a bike unregulated, she said.

"Federated Farmers, along with many other organisations, have made a real effort to target farmers and we'll continue to do that because that's absolutely critical but there is that whole recreational group.

"We need to find a mechanism that targets that group of people who have a high number of accidents as well on quad bikes," she said.

Attitudes of recreational users also needed to change, she said.

"Recreational users, quad bikes and alcohol are a cocktail for disaster," she said, referring to a Hawkes Bay incident on January 3 in which Ashlee Shorrock, 6, suffered serious head injuries after the quad bike she was on with four adults crashed in a ditch.

"Because they're easy to ride and they're very powerful machines, you can get yourself in trouble very quickly."

The group advocated reclassifying quad bikes as agricultural vehicles, which was likely to improve safety it said.

Labour's Transport Safety spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government should do more to change the culture of quad bike use to prevent further accidents.

He supported Coroner Smith's call to investigate the use of helmets, lap belts and roll bars.

But Federated Farmers did not advocate roll-over bars as these "have killed as many people as they've saved" by sometimes crushing people when bikes roll, said Mrs Maxwell.

Former Napier farmer Brian Kirk disagreed, saying roll bars prevented accidents and saved people from being crushed by bikes that usually weigh 300-375kg.

"They change the shape of the bike so it cannot roll over more than sideways and it cannot roll over and land on a body," he said.

Mrs Maxwell and Mr Kirk agreed lapbelts could also be dangerous by trapping people under bikes.

Research was under way for a "promising" new design that allows the bike to bend when pressure was put on certain points, Mrs Maxwell said.

"It holds the bike up but if you fell under the roll cage it is supposed to bend around you."

While opinions are split over whether mandatory measures are needed, there is agreement on one key point - it is up to quad bike users themselves to help prevent future tragedies.


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