Safety fears as children flout quad bikes ban

Though there is a law against under-18s renting out the vehicles, shop owners say they are pressured or duped, while parents complain that more enforcement is needed.

Ras al Khaimah, December 24, 2010 - This man drives his ATV Quad through the sand at the Awafi Festival in Ras al Khaimah, December 24, 2010. (Jeff Topping/The National)
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Children as young as 13 are still able to hire motorbikes and quad bikes, despite a legal ban.

Although children are permitted to ride the vehicles in the desert, but not on the road, they are not allowed to hire them. But parents complain that this rule is barely enforced.

For their part, shopkeepers say they are often pressured or duped into renting the vehicles to minors.

With rental cheap and easily available, teenagers are using the bikes, which can reach speeds of up to 180kph, without supervision, training or safety gear.

The number of quad bike and motorbike accidents fell slightly last year to 106, of which 16 were categorised by police as major. Seven people died.

Tareq Abdulrasheed, a 19-year-old Egyptian who lives in Dubai, has been using "banshees" - quad bikes - since he was nine. He estimated that about a quarter of stores did not follow safety regulations when renting them out.

"Small stores don't care about checking for driving licences or that the driver is 18," he said, adding that regulations were printed on the quad bikes but rarely followed.

The Indian manager of one rental store in Al Ain admitted sometimes that he turned a blind eye.

"We don't want to rent them out usually, but what [can] we do? They say they know, or use other people's licences, or someone else's ID. We know it isn't the same person, but it's not our problem," he said.

"These bikes are safe - we don't hear of accidents much. Even if we refuse to rent them out, others will, so why can't we?"

Police say anyone found driving a quad bike dangerously or on the road will be prosecuted, and their vehicle confiscated.

However, they are a common sight on the roads in some areas - and desert riding is not without risk.

One Pakistani mother. said: "What about deserts? Our kids ride them out there, that is the main problem with quad bikes."

Her daughter, now 18, broke her ankle on her last quad bike trip, and could not call an ambulance for fear of her parents' reaction.

The daughter said: "Those things go fast. I was lucky I was thrown off, because if it had landed on me, I would have been severely injured. My parents didn't know until much later - it was my first and last time."

Her mother blamed the rental store. "These are kids, how could they just give them the bikes when they told them they never rode on quad bikes before?" she said.

"It is so easy to rent them here, anyone who has Dh200 can. They don't even have a helmet, and so what if they are only allowed to use them in the desert, it is still dangerous, and rough, and they still go on roads and no one catches them."

Sarhan al Amiri, the Abu Dhabi Police head of traffic investigation, said it was essential to warn children of the risks, and make sure they knew how to ride safely. While he acknowledged concern among parents about lax procedures at rental stores, he said that a lack of parental supervision was also a problem.

Fatima Hamad, the Omani mother of 17-year-old Faisal, who was in a motorbike accident last year, insisted that it was not enough to put the responsibility on parents.

"We cannot watch them all the time," she said. "Kids cannot drive these things, and they shouldn't be allowed. Strict age restrictions and training must be made compulsory before they go out on their own."