Ambulances and rescue choppers are regularly called to quad bike and off-road motorbike crashes across Queensland (Photo: RACQ LifeFlight)

July 14, 2022

Off-road motorcycles cause a far higher rate of injuries among children than quad bikes do, a study from UNSW Sydney and NeuRA has found, but quad bikes account for more serious individual injuries.

The researchers examined all records of children aged 0-16 years admitted to NSW hospitals between 2001-2018 for injuries sustained in off-road motorcycle or quad bike crashes.

The results were published in the journal, “Injury Prevention”.

The researchers found 6624 crashes resulted in hospitalisations during this time; 5156 (78 per cent) involved motorcycles (including motocross bikes, trail bikes and other off-road motorcycles) and 1468 (22 per cent) involved quad-bikes.

When looking at the type of injuries sustained by children, there were clear differences between the two-wheeled and four-wheeled varieties.

Motorcycle riders were more likely to have lower limb injuries, but less likely to have head, neck, abdominal or thoracic injuries than quad bike riders.

But quad bike riders had more severe injuries on average, with longer hospital stays.

Tragically, there were 10 fatalities over the study period: six from motorcycles and four from quad bikes.

Lead author Dr Chris Mulligan is an orthopaedic doctor at Sydney Children’s Hospital.

He said he and his fellow researchers wanted to measure and distinguish the differences between off-road quad bike and motorcycle injuries among children, something which had never been done before at a population level.

“Our findings support the policy changes over the last 10 years with regards to quad bikes after various coronial inquests and media attention, but the high number of hospitalisations we saw indicates a need for more attention to motorcycles, too,” Dr Mulligan said.

“A lot of good work has been done at UNSW in relation to the stability testing and other vehicle-based design modifications of quad bikes, but we have not had the same level of research done for two-wheeled bikes.

“While best practice advice for quad-bikes is to not recommend their use by children under 16, this may not be practical for motorbikes. More efforts are needed to find ways to minimise risks to children using motorbikes recreationally or on family farms.”

But could it be that there are more motorcycle injuries because there are more motorbikes?

Associate Professor Julie Brown said this was a reasonable assumption.

“It is likely that more children use motorcycles and this is why we see more hospitalisations among children using them. The popularity of these vehicles over quad bikes also indicates a need to find ways to minimise the harms associated with this activity,” she said.

“To understand this better, we’d need to know how many vehicles there are in circulation. And because both off-road motorcycles and quad bikes are unregistered, and ridden off public roads, it’s not possible to know how many children are riding and for how long, and over what time period.”

This will be the subject of further study that the group is involved in.

“We want to engage with industry and other groups and get access to sales data, which would enable us to define what the baseline level of exposure to these vehicles is and what the risk factors are,” she said.

“Working co-operatively with young riders and their families, riding organisations, farming groups and industry bodies will be critical in developing effective and acceptable injury prevention measures.”


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