A sense of proportion about risk and be grateful for farmer success

Stephen Franks

I look forward to playing with my latest farm toy. The family calls it a "golf cart." It is a UTV ( said by a Jim Mora Panel listener to mean Utility Task Vehicle) but more commonly referred to as a “side by side”.  As dairy farmers upgrade their gear in the dairy bonanza, the rest of rural New Zealand benefits from their second hand off-road wheels.

The farm bike, then quad bike, largely replaced the horse several decades ago. Now they in turn will be replaced by UTVs.

The safety over-lords exploit the injury rates on ATVs to get ordinary people to cower apologetically before them. Ignoring the drive of many of us to use our machines to the limit for the same kind of satisfaction as we get from mountain climbing, or playing rugby, or skiing fast, or even perhaps binge drinking, they force industry leaders into snivelling apologies for accidents that are inevitable if people are to continue to be free to choose their preferred levels of risk.

Sure there are sensible precautions that could reduce pointless accidents without diminishing the thrill that is sought out by young and old users. But some of the effort that goes into documentation and "safety planning" is empty and demeaning arse-covering.

We should instead all be marvelling at the price and performance of the machines that have replaced horses. Riding  used to keep New Zealand rural people lean and tough (and often injured).  The hysteria about quad bike dangers overlooks how predictable they are compared with horses. Especially horses in the hands of thrill seekers.

My UTV replaces my second quad but carries beehives. You don’t ask horses to do that. Can there be a better toy for an aging boy? Every year the machines are safer, more capable and more comfortable. UTVs are no more expensive in real terms than my primitive first quad from 20 years ago. A basic quad, new, can be a little over half the nominal price of 20 years ago and under 20% of the price, taking into account inflation and quality improvements. Farmers who complain about meat prices should think what it must be like for manufacturers trying to survive a sustained price drop to under 25% of what they got 20 years ago, with no end to real price reductions in sight.

Stephen Franks is principal of Wellington commercial and public law firm Franks and Ogilvie.

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