Kids on quads, a mother's quest

What every parent needs to know before kids ride quads

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Emily Cason, whose son, Sam, was killed while rounding up cattle on a quad, has mixed feelings about manufacturer announcements they will withdraw from Australia in response to new safety measures.

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FIGHTING FOR SAFETY: Sam Cason (left) was killed rounding up cattle on a quad bike aged 11 and his mother, Emily, wants to see action that would spare other parents the same pain.

FIGHTING FOR SAFETY: Sam Cason (left) was killed rounding up cattle on a quad bike aged 11 and his mother, Emily, wants to see action that would spare other parents the same pain.

Emily Cason, whose son, Sam, was killed while rounding up cattle on a four-wheeler, has mixed feelings about manufacturer announcements they will withdraw from Australia in response to new safety measures.

The October 2021 deadline comes almost 10 years to the day after 11-year-old Sam was killed riding a quad on a friend's dairy farm.

Sam's tragic death was typical of an awful pattern: kids, dairy farms and visitors.

Deaths among children on quads are tragically common. Of the recreational fatalities on quad bikes, one in every four was a child aged under 16.

The figures come from a 2015 Investigation and Analysis of Quad Bike and Side by Side Vehicle Fatalities and Injuries by the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Half the 'recreational' deaths happen on farms, and they're not all about 'hooning around'.

Ms Cason said she still doesn't know exactly how her son died, other than being told he was rounding up cattle and guessing from the injuries she saw - his skull smashed, chest crushed, leg broken - identifying his body.

"It was a work bike and Sam died helping round up cattle," Ms Cason said.

"I don't know how you keep the two separate - fun and work - considering a lot of farmers live on their workplaces.

"WorkSafe came in to do an investigation and, because he was a visitor to the farm, even though he was on the quad that was used for farm work, he wasn't in their area.

"There were no laws broken, it was just written off as an accident."

At first, she said, it felt like nobody was taking responsibility for Sam's death but Ms Cason decided to channel her pain into making a difference for other families.

"So from the start, all I wanted to do was make the quad bikes safer because I know the importance of kids working on family farms and helping out," she said.

And the most quad-related workplace deaths occur on dairy farms, by a long way.

According to the UNSW report, while the type of farm was not recorded in 44 per cent of cases, 41pc happened on dairy farms, dwarfing every other category by a factor of at least 10 to 1.

It's perhaps not surprising. The affordability, durability and versatility of quads, particularly on often soft pasture, makes them perfect for the twice-daily movement of dairy cattle.

"At five o'clock every morning, I hop on my quad bike and, if it doesn't start, I hop on the spare next to it, and if that doesn't work, there's trouble," southwest Victorian farmer Ben Bennett told Stock & Land this week.

"We're spending three hours a day, seven days a week on quads, they're an integral piece of equipment for a dairy farmer, no different to a carpenter's hammer."

Of course, most dairy farms are family run and the intensive nature of dairying means plenty of children are called on to help with daily tasks, which often includes riding quads.

And, nearly every time another child is killed on a quad, social media seems divided between calls for a ban on underage riders and the right of farm kids to a lifestyle that encourages early responsibility.

"When I hear a death of a child, I automatically think of the parents and what's coming to them," Ms Cason said.

"I totally agree that kids, if they're brought up on farms, need to help out sometimes but it doesn't have to be on a quad ... they're not as safe as we think they are."

While the statistics around quad bike deaths is notoriously poor, data collected by the National Farm Injury Data Centre showed that four wheelers were the most common cause of death for children 5-14 years on farms.

And visitors are especially vulnerable.

Between 2001-2004, it said, "12 children died on quads in Australia and many more were hospitalised with serious injuries, 50pc of these children were visitors to farms."

Nobody asked Ms Cason whether it was okay for Sam to ride the quad but she says she'd probably have agreed.

"I don't think I was aware of the dangers at the time, so I probably would have let it happen," she said.

"I would have maybe said as long as he stays with his mate, Jack, because Sam had never ridden one before.

"We'd only moved back to the country about 10 months beforehand ... I would have said to him, yeah, you can, just stay with Jack and be careful."

Ever since, Ms Cason has been campaigning for a ban on underage riders of adult-sized quads, mandatory helmets and safety improvements to bikes.

READ MORE: How to stop the quad deaths

Now, new safety rules have seen most manufacturers announce they will withdraw from the Australian market by October 2021, exactly 10 years on from Sam's death.

"I'm still in a bit of shock, actually, that they've decided to pull out, so I'm not not 100pc sure how I feel about that," Ms Cason said.

"I don't know why it's so hard to make quad bikes safer.

"If the farmers need them and they're going to use and use them for work, then that's totally fine. I support that.

"But why is it so hard to make it safer?

"I was talking to my husband last night and I said, 'Look at cars over the last 30 years, they keep up with things that are recommended for safety.'.

"It baffles me, to tell you the truth."

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