Mandatory wearing of helmets is one proposed solution to the carnage. How helmets are supposed to improve the decision-making of the person wearing them or prevent quad bikes from rolling over and crushing their riders and other occupants is never explained by helmet proponents.
Quad bikes are popular because they are a reliable, cost-effective and very versatile way of getting around the great outdoors. They’re simple to use – even small children find them easy to operate.
Farmers love them. Connect a trailer, throw on some hay bales, a coil of wire and a dog, and there’s little that can’t be delivered or done. Outdoor recreation people love them. They’re narrow enough to negotiate tracks and trails, tractive enough to ford streams, wade through swamps, and pack in and out all manner of things needed for and produced by a few days in the bush.
Therein lies the problem. Quad bikes are so versatile, they’re being used for purposes their manufacturers never intended. Usually that’s a marketing breakthrough, and it is, as sales for these fat-tyred wonders boom.
Operators don’t need to be registered, licensed or trained. That’s because quad bikes aren’t approved for use on roads. That means that all of the palaver associated with road safety, such as it is, is waived.
In reality these vehicles are not unsafe. They’re being used by people to do things in circumstances their manufacturers never intended. And, just like any of the world’s safest motor vehicles, quad bikes are not immune from operator error.
Bad judgement and poor option-taking wreak havoc daily. That’s how people get flattened by buses by failing to look both ways before crossing a city street or electrocuting themselves by thinking they can change a three-pin wall socket without first turning off the mains power.
“Not good enough!” wail the safety conscious and the paranoid. “There should be standards and laws to protect people from themselves.”
Laws, regrettably, are made to be broken. Particularly Dumb Laws, like those intended to stop people using cellular phones whilst driving a car or to prevent the importation of genetic material to breed “dangerous” dogs. I feel sorry for police-folk who are expected to enforce the unenforceable.
Fitting a roll cage to a quad bike won’t make it any safer unless the vehicle is also fitted with a multi-point operator harness, like those in a rally car or jet fighter, that the operator wears. Like that’s going to happen on your average dairy or sheep farm.
Operators having to wear helmets or fluoro vests won’t help either, as many deaths are caused by operators’ being trapped under the quad and being badly crushed, not merely bumping their heads.
Training and licensing users won’t help either. Lots of farmers have kids who love nothing more than helping out around the farm. Hopping on the quad and helping deliver things to Mum and Dad is a valued and enjoyable part of their world. That too is a practice that is unlikely to stop.
Banning them is a pretty harsh penalty, given the economic value they provide.
So what is the solution? Common-sense, that’s what. Don’t ride under the affluence of incohol. Don’t carry unsafe loads. Make sure that your passengers are able to hold on safely, and travel at speeds and on terrain that doesn’t put them at risk.
And make sure they’re regularly and properly maintained. I know farmers who used to believe that giving the farm bike a “tune-up” involved parking it in the cowshed’s yard and giving it a good blast with the high pressure hose to get all the mud off.