Part 1: Background

Progress in implementing key recommendations of the 1996 Transport Committee inquiry into truck crashes.


In 1996, Parliament’s Transport Committee (the Committee) conducted an inquiry into the causes of fatal truck crashes on New Zealand roads. The Committee’s inquiry resulted from public and industry concern at the growing number of fatal truck crashes on New Zealand roads at a time when deaths from car accidents were declining significantly. In 1995, 118 people died in 105 fatal crashes involving at least one truck. As a percentage of all road fatalities, truck crash deaths were then at their highest level for 25 years.

We assisted with the Committee’s 1996 report,1 and in our Annual Plan 2003-042 we signalled our intention to undertake a follow-up audit of progress in implementing the Committee’s recommendations.

Our follow-up audit looked at:

  • the extent to which Government agencies have implemented the 7 recommendations in the 1996 report aimed at improving truck safety, which the Transport Committee believed could be quickly implemented;
  • the action taken on other truck safety initiatives; and
  • whether the number of fatal truck crashes has fallen since 1996.

When we refer in this report to a truck, we mean a heavy motor vehicle with an unladen weight of more that 3.5 tonnes. There are currently more than 85,000 trucks on New Zealand’s roads.

How we carried out our audit

Our audit involved:

  • seeking the comments of relevant Government agencies on the action taken since 1996 to implement the Committee’s recommendations; and
  • obtaining accident trend and enforcement statistics from the LTSA and the Police: and
  • analysing the information obtained to show the extent to which the Committee’s recommendations had been implemented and truck crash statistics improved.

What the Committee found in 1996

The Committee identified a number of underlying causes for the high number of truck crashes, including:

  1. A widespread level of offending by truck drivers and trucking companies. A survey of 300 trucks stopped at random and checked for faults showed that an estimated 30% were being operated unsafely. High among the safety risks were:
    • inadequate brakes;
    • steering faults;
    • worn tyres; and
    • driver fatigue.
  2. The poor attitude to road safety of some trucking companies. Bad practices included:
    • signing up owner-drivers to contracts that effectively required them to set work schedules that encouraged driving at excessive speeds; and
    • requiring drivers to work excessive hours.
  3. Inadequate enforcement of laws designed to ensure greater safety on the roads; in particular:
    • lack of police enforcement of truck speed limits;
    • lack of specialist police to effectively enforce laws to prevent overloading and ensure mechanical safety; and
    • lack of enforcement within the trucking industry of legal provisions designed to improve workplace safety.

The Committee made 67 recommendations on ways to improve the safety of trucking operations, naming 7 to be implemented immediately. These recommendations are listed in Figure 1 on the next page. The Committee asked the Ministry of Transport to co-ordinate action on the recommendations. The Ministry reported 3 times to the Committee, and relevant extracts from the 3 reports have been included in our report.

Figure 1
The 1996 Transport Committee’s 7 key recommendations

Recommendation 1 Truck speeds must be reduced to their legal limits. We have found that, currently, there is effectively no enforcement of the truck speed limits. The Police must give priority to enforcing truck speeds. The Police have taken delivery of new laser speed guns and, as part of the Police Speed Control Project, need to direct more of these resources into enforcing truck speeds.
Recommendation 2 The Police should place less emphasis on issuing offence notices and instead should make more use of their existing powers to order the removal of trucks from the road that are a risk to safety of other road users. The Commissioner of Police should issue a directive to staff reminding them of the need to take such action.
Recommendation 3 The roadside weigh stations operated by the Police to check trucks should on occasion be operated for 24-hour periods rather than the current average of 6 to 7 hours. The current opening times of weigh stations mean that not all trucks can be checked.
Recommendation 4 The Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit (CVIU) should be allocated a substantial proportion of the truck enforcement hours that have been allocated to the other Police staff, but which are not being used on a routine basis. This unused resource, if allocated to the CVIU, currently equates to 4.7 extra staff for the first eight months of the year. This is the equivalent of seven extra staff per annum, who could be used to provide additional enforcement in particular problem areas, such as the Auckland motorway system.
Recommendation 5 The Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit should operate on the basis of being one national unit to enhance co-ordination of staff and improve enforcement.
Recommendation 6 The Ministry of Transport should oversee our recommendations and develop an action plan for considering and implementing the recommendations. There should be a review at the end of six months on what short-term recommendations have been implemented and on the action plan for the other recommendations.
Recommendation 7 The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 should be applied immediately to truck operations by the Occupational Safety and Health Service, in conjunction with the Police, especially for serious offending where the full force of the Act is justifiable.

1: Report of the Transport Committee on the Inquiry Into Truck Crashes, parliamentary paper I. 13B.

2: B.28AP(03), page 56.

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