NZ Coroner describes quad bike safety dispute as a “Mexican stand-off”

Dave Robertson of has provided this article on a recent finding and recommendations of a New Zealand Coroner.

A New Zealand coroner, Brandt Shortland, recently handed down his findings on five farm-based quad bike deaths (Mendoza, McInnes, Ferguson, Cornelius and Van Der Pasch) that happened within six weeks of each other.  Australian agricultural newspaper The Weekly Times reported,

“Mr Shortland [Coroner], who was a keynote speaker at a Farmsafe Australia symposium in Canberra last week, said all five deaths would have been prevented if the vehicles had Crush Protection Devices (CPD) installed”

In Coroner Shortland’s findings he found that quad bikes are best described as “error intolerant” and in the quad bike manufacturers’ view “a quad bike require a rider to make good decisions”.  One NZ media report reports the Coroner as advocating continuing rider training but that

“… training and education cannot teach common sense or good judgement.”

Shortland supports the wearing of helmets while riding quad bikes and a taskforce review into roll-over protection structures (ROPS) which increases the significance of the current Australian review.  The Coroner acknowledged the tension between safety advocates and quad bike manufacturers describing it as a “Mexican standoff”.

General Manager Health and Safety Operation Ona de Rooy of the NZ Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said in a media release on the coroner’s findings (an audio interview with de Rooy is available HERE):

In the New Year the Ministry will be calling together all the parties involved with quad bikes – manufacturers, farming leaders, community leaders, trainers and the regulator – to work through how these recommendations could be implemented. The forum will also consider what other actions could be taken to reduce the deaths and injuries from inappropriate quad bike use.”

It is hard to imagine that this forum will not be echoing much of the Australian forum

A few years ago Victorian Coroner John Olle, inquiring into 7 fatalities, found that quads are “prone to rollover” and

“Roll over’s occur when ridden by safety conscious operators who are not being stupid. The most alarming lesson from these inquests, is that careful, safety conscious individuals lost their lives whilst performing innocuous farming tasks on familiar terrain”.

Those involved in occupational health and safety (OHS) know that one of the first principals in the field of safety is that to never allow an “error intolerant” machine into the workplace, as people will make mistakes from time to time. In the case of quads, the fact that farmers and their staff are often fatigued or performing multiple tasks (riding, as well as concentrating on stock when mustering or spraying weeds), errors are bound to happen. In hindsight, poor decisions causing death will be made with a vehicle that the manufacturers’ view “require a rider to make good decisions”.  Consequently, despite there been many more tractors than quads on farms, quads are consistently killing more people than anything else according to Tony Lower  of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety – Sydney Medical School who is quoted saying

“quads looking like they will be the leading cause of on-farm fatal injuries in 2013 (the 4th year out of the last 5)”.

So do CPDs, or ‘roll bars’, work to save lives?  The New Zealand experience indicates a resounding yes.  Shortland found that 15% of New Zealand quads are fitted with some type of ‘roll bar’, so statistically in the last 10 years there would have been at least 7 fatalities on quads that had a roll bar.  Yet Coroner Shortland stated at the Farmsafe Australia symposium, there had been no fatalities on quads that had a roll bars fitted.  It is also important to note that Coroner Shortland was inquiring into the deaths because they were “five farm-based quad bike deaths that happened within six weeks of each other in the Whangarei region, north of Auckland”.  It just so happens all quad bike riders died from the most common cause of death – rollovers.

According to the MBIE, the Coroner’s recommendation on ROPS/CPDs was:

“Consideration should be given to supporting a multi-disciplinary taskforce to specifically research and advise on ROPS (roll over protection devices); endorses closer relationships with Australia to look to their developments at Federal and State level on ROPS; further consideration should be given to a specialist unit for quad bikes, tractors and farm machinery (perhaps as a joint venture between industry leaders and the New Zealand Government).”

Coroner Shortland in his finding states

“I take the view there is a strong argument that ROPs (CPDs in Australia) should be considered as a legitimate form of safety protection.”

This view has been expressed by respected organisations including, Farmsafe Australia, advise farmers

“A suitably tested crush protection device (CPD) should be fitted to the quad bike”.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions advise

“Mandatory crush protection devices must be installed on all new quad bikes in Australia to prevent any more fatalities from rollovers”.

Adding to the evidence that ‘roll bars’ are effective, in Australia and New Zealand there has been over 6,000 years of use of the Quadbar CPD, with only one case of recorded injury where statistically there should be between 6 and 24 hospital admissions for the same period. Reports of incidences with a Quadbar fitted where it has prevented death or injury is around 15 cases, which matches closely the injuries that statistics indicate should have happened.

Meanwhile the major quad bike manufacturers still have their head firmly buried in the sand, taking umbrage that their product has serious safety flaws.  Continue to argue that proposed safety improvements will not work in the same way car manufactures opposed seatbelt use.

Dave Robertson

Categories ATV, audio, death, design, evidence, government, hazards, law, New Zealand, OHS, quad bike, research, safety, transport, Uncategorized

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