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Feature: Farm bike and vehicle safety

With more regulations, new technology, and changing attitudes around safety, driver training on farms has never been more important

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Andrew Simpson (Simmo) specialises in helping operators prepare for tricky situations

As a director and training manager at CARNZ Training, Simmo is passionate about ensuring operators regardless of experience levels are equipped with the skills to operate their vehicles effectively.

“I’ve always loved driving. I love off-roading and my passion is sharing that with people,” he says.  

“However, with what I’ve seen in this line of work, there’s some really bad stuff happening out there in terms of vehicle operation.”

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Hill descent training

Early days

With his first job after leaving school based around hard work and practical skills on a farm in Waimangu, Rotorua, Simmo gained life skills there over three years until he joined the New Zealand Air Force as a driver before stepping up into the training side of driving.

After 23 years with the Air Force, over a decade of which was spent as a trainer, Simmo ended up based in Woodbourne in the South Island where got involved in four-wheel driving.

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Living the dream and seeing spectacular parts of NZ as part of the training offerings

“I got an opportunity to do a bit of work outside of the Defence Force, on top of the four-wheel driving training we were delivering there and after permanently leaving the Air Force in 2005, pursued driver training as a full-time career.”  

As a registered MITO assessor and NZTA registered driving instructor and testing officer, Simmo is passionate about keeping drivers safe behind the wheel. He says times have certainly changed since his early days on the farm.

“When I was on the farm, I turned up, and no one took me through operating the machines or vehicles. It was pretty much jump in and off you go, and you learn from making your own mistakes.

“And I certainly made a few mistakes, which I learnt from. But there are a lot of people who don’t get that opportunity. They make one mistake and that’s it — they’re either not walking again, or worse.”

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Workplace LUV training

With current health and safety regulations, businesses are required to undergo and offer training to staff because there’s more responsibility and accountability, which Simmo says is a great thing.

“With training, you can take owners and staff through the courses.

“You can see how much they learn and know they are going to be safer out there because now they have a better understanding of how to safely use their equipment. But it also means for companies and for fleets, if operators understand the vehicles, they make the vehicle work for them rather than being out there thrashing it around like we did in the old days.

“So people become safer, but there’s also a better understanding of the machine or vehicle they are using which can also help to reduce maintenance issues.” 

Machinery awareness

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Vehicle capability training

Simmo says training also shows operators the capabilities and limitations of the machines they are using and, more importantly, their own capabilities and limitations.

“That’s what we have to work to, right? Because off-road driving, it doesn’t matter what platform it’s on, but it’s completely different to your normal on-road driving and what we’re required to do with our feet,” he says.

“Learning how to use the right configurations at the right time, particularly around four-wheel drives, and with all the technology coming in, it’s important drivers know what their vehicle or machine can do.

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A spot of recreational driving upskilling

“New vehicles, such as four-wheel drive utes, have all got stability programmes — descent control, traction control, and trailer sway mitigation software. There are just so many things people don’t get told about when they buy a vehicle, or they don’t know how to use it correctly.  For a number of our corporate clients, we conduct ‘Familiarisation to Type’ training, as they have new vehicles come into their fleet to update staff on vehicle technologies and driving techniques required for the new vehicles.”

Simmo says attitudes around safety have changed for the better.

“We’re certainly seeing a lot more of that now, especially with corporates. Once they’ve had training and can see the benefits of it, for both the staff and for the gear, word definitely gets around about why driver training is good for business.

“Attitudes around safety have certainly improved. Take helmets for example. People used to turn up to training, and for quads and side by sides, where you’ve got to wear a helmet, and no one would show up with one.

“And you’d tell people that if they don’t wear a helmet, they can’t do the training, and the response was like you had sworn at them. But these days, you turn up, we still take a bag of helmets, but the majority of people that we’re training have already brought helmets with them, which is great. There’s just a lot more awareness now that has filtered down.

“There are still lots of accidents on quads and side by sides and other machinery on farms, but it definitely is improving. People are starting to use the correct machines for the job and learning how to use them correctly.”

Professional training

Based out of Palmerston North, CARNZ operates all around the country, training all types of people and skill levels across different locations on different types of terrain.

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Polaris dealer training

“We mainly focus on the off-road side of things, but we also do a few specialist courses, such as trailer towing and on-road driving awareness training.  That’s what keeps training interesting for us,” he says. Prior to any training, CARNZ discusses training requirements based on the type of work and terrain being utilised by staff.

“We have a few farms around the country that we use for training venues, but often people want to do training on their own property, so they can really get to know their own terrain and ground composition.

“Even when people are travelling to us, we’ll get them to use their own machines, as that’s what is relevant to them. The difference between equipment brands can be quite substantial — different tyres, different tyre pressures, and different loads. We try to make it as relevant as we can around what people are actually doing with the machine and what their specific requirements are.”

Simmo is a longtime Polaris fan and with CARNZ has worked alongside Polaris for a number of years, including offering live demonstrations at Field Days around the county with the brand.

“I did quite a bit of study before I bought my first machine and bought a Polaris purely for the all-wheel drive system, which in concept they still run to this day,” he says.

“We ran a few drive days as LUVs (side by sides) started to take off. A lot of our customers were looking at moving to them but didn’t really know what to go to, so we provided something.

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Training around trailer towing skills

“We contacted manufacturers and ran a few days where we got them to bring their machines and our customers could jump onto a Polaris, a Honda, a Yamaha, and just see and feel the difference before making up their own mind which they preferred.

“We started doing some Polaris demonstrations and showing off some of those key safety features of the Polaris product at events and that just got bigger and bigger. And now we do training for the dealers in New Zealand and Australia”

Widely recognised in the industry, Simmo is still just as enthusiastic today about ensuring people have better skills behind the wheel as he was decades ago when starting out.

“Health and safety requirements are high on the agenda for all businesses and individuals, and we’re stoked to be able to contribute to that and hopefully play a role in ensuring individuals and teams are appropriately trained, as well as knowing the limitations of the vehicles they’re using so that they can make it home safely at the end of the day after doing their bloody important job.”    

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