A RIVERINA father who lost his son in a quad bike tragedy argues that improving the bike's safety should take precedence over legislation changes after recommendations from a coronial inquest were handed down last week.
Five recommendations were made after an inquest into the death of six-year-old Myley Maxwell, who was not wearing a helmet when she died of blunt-force head trauma after being a passenger on a quad bike that hit a tree on a rural property near Wee Waa in March 2017.
One recommendation is to make it a criminal offence for adults who allow children under 16 years old to ride adult-sized quad bikes.
"Tragically, Myley is not the first child to have died in this way," deputy state coroner Elizabeth Ryan said last week.
"She and her friends had been permitted by adults to use quad bikes in ways that were far outside their intended usage, and in complete disregard for warnings prominently displayed on the quad bikes."
Ms Ryan also recommended mandatory licensing for adult riders and amending legislation to allow police who have a reasonable suspicion of such offences being committed to enter private property to investigate.
One Riverina man who knows the pain of losing a loved one in a quad bike incident is Ross Smith, whose 27-year-old son, Lachlan, was killed in 2013 when his bike rolled and crashed at his family's Adelong property.
Mr Smith said that while he understood the need to make it a criminal offence for adults to let children ride quad bikes, he said he was not in favour because "they shouldn't be riding adult bikes in the first place".
"The should ride push bikes and not anything with a motor in them - that's the way I brought my kids up," he said.
"It falls back on the adults who should be responsible.
"It's no good putting them in jail over it because if something does happen then they're already going to feel bad without putting them through the courts."
- Related: Life cut short: Lachlan Smith
Mr Smith said that mandating quad-bike licences for riders over 16 years old was "silly" because it would be another layer of bureaucracy with costs that would only impact rural landowners and farmers.
"Normally, they're not allowed on the road anyway so it's silly saying someone's got to have a licence to ride one," he said.
He said he still maintain that perspective.
"The main reason they're so dangerous is that they haven't got a diff," he said.
"My brother went to pick the bike up from the police station [after Lachlan's death] and he drove it onto his trailer and said it felt so dangerous trying to get it on the trailer with a flat tyre.
"For the sake of $200 or $300, they can make them a lot safer."
Six years after Lachlan's death, Mr Smith said the family was "hanging on".
"We've sort of just kept going, that's all we can do," he said.
"You never get over it, but it's just nice for people to remember him - he was a wonderful, wonderful young man."
Tony Clough, who has been farming in Wantabadgery since 1981 and had his two daughters ride quad bikes when they were younger, said it is "pretty sad that we lose people in this manner - I feel sorry for the family who lost the little girl".
He said that care was needed to avoid over-regulations and that responsibilities should be with adults.
"It all boils down to being responsible adults and not letting kids on quad bikes," Mr Clough said.
"Stop over-regulating us because we've got to get away from this nanny state and sanitising society.
"We've got people who let these things happen then they come out and blame the coroner for not making it mandatory for everything to be safe and secure."
Mr Clough said that no matter the level of regulations, accidents will continue to happen.
"Farming and living on rural properties are where accidents are more likely to happen than anywhere else," he said.
It all boils down to being responsible adults and not letting kids on quad bikes.Tony Clough, Riverina farmer
'Disappointing state of affairs': Coroner
Ms Ryan described the failure of NSW to implement similar recommendations from other coronial inquests into quad bike deaths as a "disappointing state of affairs".
These include mandating that helmets be worn, mandating training and prohibiting children from using adult-sized quad bikes in 2015.
These recommendations were repeated after nine quad bike-related deaths in Queensland and again in 2017 after seven deaths in Tasmania.
Junee farmer John Higginson said he "fully agreed" with the recommendation to make it a criminal offence for adults allowing children to ride quad bikes.
"Unfortunately, we've got to bring a law in for that because we keep hearing of these deaths quite frequently, now, don't we?" Mr Higginson said.
However, he said he disagreed with the recommendation for police to enter private property to investigate.
"I think that's taking it a bit too far," he said.
Another recommendation is a working group comprised of representatives from NSW Government, SafeWork NSW, NSW Police and non-government industry groups to consider various quad-bike issues, including education campaigns.
Safe Work Australia statistics show that 18 of the 125 quad bike-related deaths in Australia between 2011 and 2018 were children aged under 16.
In only 10 per cent of the 125 deaths was it known that the rider was wearing a helmet.
"Myley's death was a tragedy that was entirely preventable," Ms Ryan said.
"Her family is heartbroken by her death, and the four young girls who were with her are still struggling with their feelings of shock and sadness.
"Like Myley's family, I hope that her death will prompt positive changes that will reduce the risk of other families being devastated in this way."
- More about quad bike safety and regulations: QuadWatch
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