Gordon Campbell on the preventable deaths, injuries and ACC costs from quad bike use

Another coronial inquiry into a series of deaths from quad bikes, another call for better safety protection measures to be put in place:

The coroner’s recommendations included:
• dropping of the term “all-terrain vehicle” and using quad bikes to refer to the vehicle
• endorsing the message from industry leaders that helmets should be mandatory
• ongoing research into training and education around quad bike use, including how to make training as accessible as possible
• supporting a taskforce to perform research into roll-over protection devices, that may help protect the driver if a quad bike rolls.

Farmers were also advised to consider carrying a personal alarm, as many of the victims were trapped under their bikes for some time before succumbing to their injuries.

For years, quad bikes have been killing people on New Zealand farms, with a rate currently running at around 5 deaths and 850 injuries a year – not to mention millions of dollars in ACC payments. Quad bikes are second only to car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in rural communities. Nor do most of the costs related to quad bike accidents arise from their use for farm work. The ACC toll from recreational use is, in fact, higher. Since 07/08 the cost of leisure-related claims related to quad bike use has exceeded the cost of the work-related claims, in some years quite substantially. (In 07/08 for instance, recreational use of quad bikes cost the taxpayer $4.66 million in ACC claims while work use claims amounted to $3.7 million.) One of the striking aspects of yesterday’s report by coroner Brandt Shortland was his call for research into the efficacy of rollover bars. The fact that research into the efficacy or otherwise of these devices has yet to be done seems incredible, given the annual toll from these machines.

Of course, the wingnuts will always raise the sanctity of private property as a rationale for why government regulations on mandatory helmet use – and in time perhaps, on mandatory use of rollover devices – would be an unacceptable intrusion by the forces of nanny state socialism.

Well, welcome to the 21st century. People do not have the right to kill and maim themselves, their children – who crop up with depressing regularity in the death and accident statistics – and their workers with impunity. A farm is no longer a private domain, where each farmer is the feudal lord of all they survey. They are workplaces, recreational sites….and apparently, playgrounds for children. The workers in such workplaces deserve not be killed by employers who are not made their farms and equipment safe for use by providing adequate training and helmet protection.

Currently, the rest of New Zealand is picking up the ACC tab for the way farmers use quad bikes, and farming families are suffering the consequences of the accidents. Which is why Rural Women New Zealand have been so vocal, and been such a useful conduit of research information about the issue to rural communities. Elsewhere, the calls for mandatory helmet use and age restrictions on quad bike use are mounting:

The Royal Children’s Hospital, Ambulance Victoria, The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, KidSafe and the Australian Medical Association are lobbying the [state] government for a minimum riding age of 16, a public awareness campaign and mandatory helmets to cut the toll.

The call by Coroner Shortland for the use of “quad bike” rather than “all terrain vehicle” may seem like mere semantics, but it echoes similar coronial recommendations that have been made across the Tasman since 2009.

In the wake of an inquest into several quad-bike deaths, Coroner John Olle told quad bike manufacturers this month to never again market or describe the four-wheeled motorbikes as all-terrain vehicles. Mr Olle said to describe a quad bike as an all-terrain vehicle was a “serious overstatement of its capabilities”.

Last year, Werewolf last year reported on the Australian debate on the debate about the installation of rollover devices on quad bikes:

During 2011 in Australia, a battle raged between safety proponents on one side, and farming organisations and manufacturers on the other over whether it should be made mandatory for rollover protection bars to be fitted on quad bikes. As Coroner Ian Smith pointed out in his September 2009 inquest findings into the on-road quad bike death of Philip Osborne “ Roll over is the leading cause of injury with riders being crushed or trapped under an overturned vehicle.” His coronial records showed that between 2000 and 2007, of the 98 deaths involving quad bikes, 32 were due to the deceased being pinned under the vehicle. Yet as Smith noted in his Osborne findings, “The manufacturers of these ATVs apparently strongly recommend that neither ROP (rollover protection) structure or bull bars be fitted…”

Should we really be surprised to find that the New Zealand authorities have been dragging their feet?

The opposition to roll bars was endorsed by the NZ Transport Agency, who stated (pages 6-7 Osborne decision) that ‘fitting roll bars to this type of vehicle will raise the centre of gravity, therefore making the vehicle more prone to roll-over….as always it is regrettable that another life has been lost on the road. In this case, it is felt that the best course of action would be for the NZTA to focus on promotional, rather than regulatory interventions.”

Resistance to mandatory rollover devices –and helmet use – was also evident in Australia among the farming community and manufacturers at the outset of 2011, Quad bike manufacturers even mounted a public campaign against their compulsory use, arguing that the rollover devices themselves could easily do more harm than good in the event of an accident, by pinning or injuring the rider. In October 2011 however, the manufacturers’ anti-roll bars campaign came to a screeching halt after researchers at Monash University and released findings of serious shortcomings in the US computer simulation research being relied upon by the manufacturers to support the ‘more harm than good.” argument.

Australian engineers analysed the model and found it predicted 99 of the 113 rollover accidents would result in head injuries. Yet the US and UK injury reports showed just 16 suffered head injuries. The model predicted just four of the 113 accidents would result in trunk injuries (shoulder to groin). However, the injury reports showed 50 of the accidents resulted in trunk injuries. Queensland safety consultant Geoff McDonald said it was clear the model failed to simulate real-life rollover injuries, yet it was being used to test the effectiveness of rollover protection systems on ATVs. The manufacturers have since terminated their campaign of resistance and have co-operated with Australian safety authorities in forming a joint trans Tasman working party on quad bike rollover devices, in which our DoL have participated.

Okay, that was in 2011. So what has been the fruit of New Zealand’s participation two years ago in this trans-Tasman investigation into the efficacy of rollover devices – and why, in late 2013, are coroners still having to ask for the basic research to be done? As Werewolf pointed out in early 2012, New Zealand remains so far behind the play on rollover devices that they do not feature at all within its four key messages on safe quad bike use – a lack of priority significant in itself.

In its responses to the Santos inquest, the then Department of Labour conceded that the its current safety campaign “does not currently include the installation of lap belts and a roll over protection structure.” While the DoL had “extensively” investigated these devices, “it does not consider it appropriate to include them as part of the safety campaign at present.” So it goes.

UNESCO and the US
In a small but significant symbol of the way that US policy on Israel dictates American foreign policy as a whole, consider the case of UNESCO. This is the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation organisation that does such good work in preserving world heritage and cultural sites, and in generally promoting education and culture, from Mali to the US, to Haiti. Well, the US has just refused to pay its annual dues – which comprise 22% of UNESCO’s entire budget – and has effectively withdrawn in protest at the organisation’s decision in 2011 to include Palestine as a member.

As the Guardian has reported, the suspension of US contributions has now brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis. Israel approves.

Israel’s ambassador to Unesco, Nimrod Barkan, told the Associated Press that his country supported the US decision “objecting to the politicisation of Unesco, or any international organisation, with the accession of a non-existing country like Palestine”.

UNESCO is not exactly a terrorist organisation. Ironically, some of its recent work has been expressly about Holocaust research and the prevention of genocide.

Unesco is probably best known for its programme to protect the cultures of the world via its heritage sites, which include the Statue of Liberty and Timbuktu in Mali. But its core mission, as conceived by the US, a co-founder of the agency in 1946, was to be an anti-extremist organisation. It tackles foreign policy issues such as access to clean water, teaches girls to read, works to eradicate poverty, promotes freedom of expression and gives people creative thinking skills to resist violent extremism.

Among Unesco programmes already slashed because of funding shortages is one in Iraq that was intended to help restore water facilities. Also in danger was a Holocaust and genocide awareness programme in Africa to teach about non-violence, non-discrimination and ethnic tolerance, using the example of the mass killing of Jews during the second world war.

Under US law however, it s mandatory that the US government must withdraw its financial support for any UN agency that admits Palestine as a member. Incredible. To placate Israel, and to promote fiction promoted by Israel that Palestinians do not exist as a people, the US will meekly fall into line, and do whatever it takes.