Kids on Quads: Responding to Rural Risks

Article excerpt

Abstract

The rural sector features prominently in the statistics for All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) injuries and fatalities amongst children in New Zealand. ATVs are the new workhorse of the farm and their increasing popularity suggests the rate of accidents involving children will not abate of its own accord. This paper summarises and updates research on ATV farm accidents involving children undertaken early in 2006. It reiterates the unsuitability of ATVs for use by and around children and examines accident statistics in the wake of a court case resulting from the death of a child on the family's farm. It argues that voluntary compliance with existing guidelines for the operation of ATVs is an insufficient strategy for reducing or eliminating existing risks to rural children. While the specificity of rural circumstances is acknowledged, it is not accepted as an adequate justification for maintaining the status quo. Rather, in light of the increasing numbers of ATVs and their growing popularity amongst lifestyle block holders, reducing unacceptable levels of risk to rural children requires the development of legal restrictions on the operation of the vehicles.

INTRODUCTION

In the summer of 2005/06 the Child Accident Prevention Foundation of New Zealand (CAPFNZ) funded a summer scholarship for research on the nature and extent of All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) accidents involving children on New Zealand farms (Basham et al. 2006). Over the same period, a high-profile manslaughter case was brought before the High Court. In September 2005 a four-year-old child was killed on her family's farm when her father allowed her to operate an ATV while he attended to a call on his cell phone (Rennie 2005:4). The Crown alleged that her father was grossly negligent in allowing her to ride his quad bike to round up the cows for milking. The girl lost control of the bike, it rolled on her and she died instantly from massive head injuries (Boyes 2006). This paper draws on and extends the substance of the CAPFNZ report, ultimately seeking to ascertain whether the farm is now a safer place for children since 2005. It begins with an outline of the vehicles, their governance, typical accidents and the environment and culture in which they are used. It canvasses the recommendations provided in the CAPFNZ report, and examines the means by which safer outcomes for farm children might be achieved.

The research for the original project involved an extensive literature review in which the general paucity of ATV studies published in New Zealand and Australia contrasted sharply with the abundance of statistical data from the United States. Because ATV use in the United States is largely recreational, however, the findings were not always directly transferable to the predominantly agricultural use of the vehicles in New Zealand, though they provided good background data in regard to the vehicles themselves and typical accidents and injuries. Within the somewhat sparse New Zealand literature, a key resource was a workplace accidents report (Lilley et al. 2004) in which the farm as a workplace featured prominently.

Additional data were gleaned from a review of New Zealand media reports, editorials and commentaries on ATV safety between 1999 and 2005. The project also incorporated interview data from two groups of respondents closely associated with key aspects of the topic. The first group consisted of experts in child, farm, ATV and workplace safety and comprised representatives from OSH, ACC, Safekids, Ag ITO, Agribusiness and Federated Farmers. The second group comprised parents who own and use ATVs on their farms.

THE VEHICLES

In 2002, OSH estimated that there were about 70 000 (2) ATVs in use on New Zealand farms (OSH 2002a) and in 2005 approximately 95% of ATV use in New Zealand was for farm work (ACC 2005). They are rapidly replacing tractors as a multi-purpose farm workhorse. Designed for use by a single operator, ATVs are open, motorised, four-wheeled vehicles with low-pressure tyres and with handlebars for steering control. …