If there were a song to sing about the tragedy and pain of children’s lives lost and bodies broken by quad bikes in our country, the chorus would surely ring out: Enough is Enough.
Trauma kills and disables more Aussie children than any other cause, and every preventable child trauma death is a reason for despair for any person or system that failed to protect them. In my work as a surgeon and trauma prevention advocate, I see few better places to start saving lives than a ban to stop children getting on quad bikes altogether. This is a hard line, too hard for some, but I would challenge anyone… farmer, doctor, lawyer, voter, seller, buyer, parent or child: How many more children do you think need to be injured on quad bikes before you’ll be singing, ‘Enough is enough’?
We have seen enough deaths. Since 2001, 42 Aussie kids under 16 years have died from quad bike trauma. That is a classroom full of children in parts of Australia, and in some country schools the loss of 42 kids would be to lose a community. Some die instantly, and horribly it appears some children die slower and heart-wrenchingly avoidable deaths, pinned under the immovable weight of a tipped quad bike. Quad bikes are relentless and merciless in their ability to kill, which sets them apart from other dangers likes horses or motorbikes.
We have had enough injuries. In Victoria, over a 12-year period almost 800 children under 16 years presented to emergency departments with quad bike trauma, and a third of these were admitted. The hospital I work in, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, is our state-designated paediatric trauma centre, and so we see Victoria’s most injured children. Disturbingly, we have seen a consistent rise in quad bike injuries each year, this year already being no exception. This includes life re-defining injuries like crush injuries to the head and chest, fractured thigh bones, spinal injuries, major burns, pelvic fractures and abdominal organ injuries. Again, a key danger here is inherent instability of quad bikes and so tendency to tip and crush the rider, striking a blow that causes direct and terrible injury or cruelly pins the child until they are, hopefully, discovered. For too many of these quad bike trauma victims, what starts with injury continues as disability with interrupted education, disrupted family life, loss of opportunity and more.
What we don’t see enough of is action. Together with many health and farm safety groups, my clear assertion is kids can only be adequately protected and injuries prevented with a ban: no child under 16 years on any quad of any size at any time in any place for any reason. Yes, this would be a strict step, but law of this strictness would at long last appropriately reflect to our community the gravity of risk posed to kids by quad bikes.
Some say the ban isn’t required, but I very much doubt they have listened to the cries of bereaved families or felt their broken bodies. Some say smaller quads can be safe, but the weight of evidence against this is only surpassed by the weight of the lightest quad as it crushes and suffocates its victims. Some say a ban of kids on quads won’t work, but the US state of Massachusetts passed a similar law in 2010 achieving zero deaths in kids protected by the ban for more than five years and ongoing dramatic reductions in injury rates. Some say quad bike legislation isn’t their responsibility, priority or portfolio, but I say preventing childhood death and injury is everyone’s responsibility and should be on everyone’s agenda.
What we don’t have enough of is time. Now is the time for action; further delay means further deaths and injuries, and enough is enough. The ban we hope for tomorrow is the action we need today, and our children deserved yesterday. What a difference it would make to see action on this before tomorrow, before the next family tragedy has a chance to happen.
Surgeon and Director, Trauma Service at The Royal Children’s Hospital
This originally appeared in The Weekly Times.
If you’d like more information on quad bike safety, read our Kids Health Info fact sheet.