Put the brakes on quad bike deaths

It's no longer good enough to dismiss every tragic event with the defence 'the rider was at fault'

THE tragic death of young Ray White Rural auctioneer Dale Kirchen while riding a quad bike on a property in western Queensland last weekend has again brought into question the safety of these vehicles on our farms.

The death of this 26-year-old man, who leaves behind a loving partner and two young children, plus grieving family, friends and colleagues, brings the number of all-terrain-vehicle (ATV)-related fatalities on Australian farms to six this year, with only four months of the year just gone.

Three of these were the result of a rollover.

There have been a further 55 deaths on ATVs on Australian farms in the three years prior to 2014.

From 2001 to 2012, 170 people - people, not numbers - lost their lives while riding an ATV.

This loss of life is atrocious and it prompts the need for urgent action on the part of our law-makers, manufacturers, primary producers and their representative groups to stop this carnage.

Quad bikes and other manifestations in what is called the all terrain vehicle category should be just another farm tool to help primary producers go about their business safely and with peace of mind.

As with any farm vehicle, equipment or machinery, operator care must be taken to minimise risk.

However, the sobering statistics quoted above and the story which appeared in Queensland Country Life, suggests more needs to be done than issuing quad bike riders an instructional video and handbook and recommending helmets be worn when they purchase a new machine.

Such a 'duty of care' policy - if, in fact it can be called that - fails to take into account the number of machines sold on the second-hand market.

While that advice may help it's fairly low down on the hierarchy of available risk minimisation controls.

The subliminal message is: "our product is perfect, if the vehicle rolls over and kills you, it's your fault".

Sound familiar? It's the old defence used by tobacco companies when under threat from litigious action from their increasingly ailing clientele.

It's no longer good enough to dismiss every tragic event with the defence that the rider was at fault, either through operator error or carelessness.

There must be accountability for the design of these vehicles, and the marketing claims which are made to lead people into believing they are suitable for all farming duties, such as mustering large animals at high speed.

Perhaps this needs reviewing along with the mandatory installation of crush-protection devices and other safety design enhancements.

It is heartening to hear that a coronial inquiry into quad bike deaths will start in Queensland this month, but with hearings to begin as late as October.

The findings, said to be keenly sought by Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie, aren't expected until early next year.

Tragically, on current trends, that will be more than some lifetimes to wait.

So in the meantime, here at Queensland Country Life we are going to start the conversation about how to reduce this appalling waste of life.

Our campaign is so new, that as yet it doesn't even have a name; but it will by this time next week and I look forward to bringing you updates on our progress.

We welcome your input to join the conversation and contribute ideas to address not just death and injury on ATVs, but farm safety in general.

In a week that has seen Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh announce the state's first agriculture conference for June 26 to increase farm productivity as one of the four pillars of the state economy, surely farms as safe places to work, live and raise children must be part of any agenda that aims to take primary production forward.

Email me directly at brad.cooper@fairfaxmedia.com.au, or to have your say published on our Letters page, email lettersqcl@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

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READER COMMENTS

stockman
4/05/2014 10:00:27 AM

Shouldn't people be responsible for their own safety? There is a campdraft competitor fighting for his life after a fall from his horse.Do you suggest putting seat belts and roll bars on saddles? Think it through,and don't react like Howard did by taking guns off honest citizens because one idiot goes berserk in Tasmania.
Pete
4/05/2014 2:31:25 PM

Brad, As i write this, a very prominent and very skilled campdraft rider is critically injured from a fall from a horse. How many people have died on farms from horse falls? How about in cattle yards? What about fall from height? Farms are the most dangerous place to work - Hands Down. Family farms are to make a gross generalisation are woeful. What is the fix for it all? Manadatory risk management training or licensing - That won't work. How about we all deal with the fact that if we choose to take risks and run out if skill - its gonna hurt.
John Lambert
19/05/2014 10:01:39 PM

Stockman and Pete, your comparisons are irrelevant. You should be comparing cars and tractors both of which have been modified since the 1960s (CPD's/ rollbars have been fitted to tractors) so as to reduce deaths and serious injuries dramatically. Redesigning quad bikes to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 50pc would only add 2pc-5pc to their cost!
A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.

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