Rachel Smalley: Kids are dying riding quads

Author
Rachel Smalley,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Friday, 10 March 2017, 8:17AM
ACC says more than 100 children hurt themselves in off-road vehicles in New Zealand every year. Photo / File.
ACC says more than 100 children hurt themselves in off-road vehicles in New Zealand every year. Photo / File.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons wants New Zealand and Australia to ban children from riding quads - this after a six year old girl died in a quad bike crash in New South Wales.

The statistics are pretty horrendous. ACC says more than 100 children hurt themselves in off-road vehicles in New Zealand every year. Up to six will die, and that's six too many.

I think I first started riding quad bikes when I was about 12.

I use to ride for a horse stud, and there were about half a dozen of us kids, and we all loved riding the quad. No helmet, you just ripped across the farm at full tilt, yelling and yahooing. It was exhilarating. Twelve years old and you were in control of a machine.

Not always in control, mind you. I put the quad into a fence once. And I hit a metal farm gate so hard I bent it. It worked out I was pretty good at accelerating. Not so good at braking.

I look back now and realise I was lucky. Really lucky. It was a big bike, and I shouldn't have been riding it - let alone riding it at such speeds.

Then, at Christmas, I was at my brother's farm and he'd bought his 6-year-old daughter a motorbike. You know, the little kids' motorbikes? They sound a bit like a hairdryer. She had a kid's quad, but she'd grown too tall for that and she wanted a two-wheeler.

And she's unbelievable to watch. She's been taught well, she's really skilled, she's always in control - although that doesn't stop her grandmother having kittens everytime she watches her.

To be fair, she is a bit like Evil Knievel. She's fearless.

And so Finn, her older cousin, was given the quad to ride. He's ridden it before. He's ridden the little kids' quad since he was 5 and he's now almost 8. While we call his cousin Evil Knievel, Finn's nickname is Careful Colin.

He's fairly pedestrian. Finn's in no rush to get anywhere in life. He's a potterer. And while his cousin will go screaming past him on the two-wheeler with her hair flying out the bottom of her helmet, Finn is more likely to stop his bike to admire a butterfly on the fencepost. Or to have a closer look at a squashed hedgehog or something. Good old Careful Colin.

So I was on a big quad, my brother was on his two-wheeler, my niece was on her small two-wheeler, and Finn was on the kid's quad and we were travelling along a shingle farm track and Finn - AKA Careful Colin - somehow just quietly drove off the road, across the grassy verge and drove smack into a big stack of hay bales. Bang.

No-one quite knew why, or how, least of all Finn. There was nothing we could do, it just all happened in slow-motion.

Finn was fine. He gave himself a fright and couldn't really explain what happened, but I suspect he had what I call a 'butterfly moment'. Something would have caught his eye and his mind would have wandered off. Probably a butterfly.

And yes, he's young - not quite 8 - and he was wearing a helmet and riding a kid's quad bike - but he could have really hurt himself. It was a lesson to us all, I think. His younger cousin is really capable because she's been taught well, lives on a couple of thousand hectares and has been around bikes all her life.

But the difference is they ride kids bikes. They're low cc.  They don't - and won't for many  years - be handed the controls of an adult-sized quad.

You've got to question a child's responsiveness and their decision-making ability when it comes to life in general, let alone when it comes to handling a powerful machine.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons have raised a valid point. Kids are dying riding quads and how do you stop that? Legislation, it seems, is the best answer. 

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