Part 3: Other truck safety initiatives

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

Several other important initiatives have been taken in response to the Committee’s recommendations that have either reduced truck crashes or have the potential to significantly improve the safety of trucking operations.

Reducing truck rollover crashes

In 1996, the Committee’s report drew attention to the number of crashes where trucks had rolled and recommended that priority be given to stability-related issues. We found that considerable work has been done to reduce the number of truck rollover crashes. The LTSA, for example, introduced a minimum vehicle stability requirement, which was a world-first of its type. As part of that introduction, drivers and operators were given driver training, along with information about vehicle stability that stressed the need to slow down, especially around curves.

The Committee’s report singled out the log transport sector, which responded by forming the Log Transport Safety Council, which includes transport operators, forest owners, equipment manufacturers, TERNZ8 and the LTSA. The combined efforts of the Council, Government agencies, and the Police have reduced logging truck rollover crashes (per 100,000 km) to about one-third of what they were in late-2000. The factors responsible for the reduction include:

  • major improvements in trailer design to improve stability;
  • the introduction of longer and lower logging trucks to reduce load height;
  • maximum height restrictions;
  • more emphasis on driver training;
  • improvements in operator safety management systems;
  • an 0800 “compliments and complaints” system;
  • increased enforcement; and
  • a range of other measures.

The initiatives taken by the logging industry are a good illustration of the road safety benefits that can accrue when government agencies and industry work together. However, rollover crashes for all trucks continue to be a problem. In 2003, 37.5% of truck crashes reported to the CVIU involved a rollover. The figures appear to be increasing, which indicates that this area of truck safety will need continued attention.

Responsible operator programme

The Committee’s 1996 report recommended that the LTSA set up a task force of transport organisations and relevant government agencies to establish a “responsible operator programme”. The programme would mirror an Australian scheme that aimed to have transport operators, regulatory authorities, and enforcement agencies “working in a spirit of co-operation rather than potential conflict.” The Australian scheme required transport operators to put safety systems in place that could be audited to check their compliance with the law.

The Committee envisaged that transport operators participating in the New Zealand programme (who would be more likely to be complying with legal requirements anyway) would not be subject to the same level of enforcement as other operators. To help target irresponsible operators, it also recommended that a database be set up to record information from roadside inspections, speed enforcement, and accident investigations.

However, a responsible operator programme did not appear to be a high priority for the LTSA at the time. The Ministry’s 1997 progress report noted that the LTSA did not consider it necessary to set up a specific task force to look at such a programme, as it was already reviewing the licensing regime for ways to make truck drivers and operators more responsible for safety on the roads. The LTSA pointed out that an operator database already existed, although it would need to be upgraded before it could be used to target irresponsible operators.

In September 2000, the Road Transport Forum urged the Minister of Transport to set up a comprehensive operator safety-rating scheme. The Forum said the greatest overall influence on safety was the management of the businesses controlling trucking operations –

Management controls driver selection, driver training, safety culture, driving schedules as well as vehicle selection and maintenance. In addition, there is strong international evidence which shows that the demands made on drivers, as a result of management accepting unrealistic delivery schedules and contract conditions, are significant contributors to truck crashes.

The Forum argued that the deregulated transport model had delivered substantial efficiency gains to the New Zealand economy, but that it should be accompanied by effective, targeted enforcement, and a system that made transport operators fully accountable for their policies and actions. The failure of government transport policy to provide those elements, it said, had played a significant part “in giving economic advantages to delinquent transport operators who have deliberately compromised safety and operated illegally”.

The safety rating scheme that the Forum wanted set up was similar to the one recommended in the Committee’s 1996 report. Operators would be rated by their compliance with safety systems, which would allow enforcement to be targeted at habitual offenders. It would also allow operators with high safety standards to be rewarded through less intensive on-road enforcement, and to receive other benefits as a means of encouraging others to improve.

The LTSA is now devising an operator safety rating scheme (OSRS) that is enforcement-based. It will use the results of offence notices and Certificate of Fitness inspections from the previous 24 months to identify and target irresponsible operators. However, this is only one aspect of what the Committee envisaged for the responsible operator programme. For example, it wanted procedures put in place that demonstrated that trucking companies were operating safely, and for these procedures to be audited.

The LTSA told us that a similar safety rating scheme now in use in Ontario, Canada, took 10 years to implement, which suggests that it could be several years before the new scheme is in force in this country. Had the LTSA given this project higher priority in 1997, it is likely that a responsible operator programme, or something similar, would have been at an advanced stage now.

Improving truck braking

The Committee recommended that urgent attention be given to improving the braking of all heavy vehicles. As a first step, it called for a review to identify any deficiencies in the Brake Code. The code is a set of standards developed by the LTSA and the trucking industry to improve the standard of braking for fully-laden heavy vehicle combinations (it is mandatory for all heavy vehicle combinations over 39 tonnes).

The Committee also recommended that urgent attention be given to the braking of all trucks. As a first step, roadworthiness checks needed to be improved and new braking technologies reviewed.

An LTSA brake survey in 1998 found that about half of the 1064 trucks and trailers tested had defective brake systems and did not comply with braking requirements. The survey also found that trailers were 3 times more likely to be ordered off the road for defective brakes than trucks. The LTSA followed up with a “road show” to raise industry awareness that basic maintenance – for example, adjusting slack adjusters and draining water from air tanks – could dramatically improve braking performance.

In April 2003, a smaller LTSA survey of heavy vehicle brakes found that 65% of heavy vehicles failed the minimum brake performance requirement. The survey also found that 87% of semi-trailers and 79% of fully-laden trailers failed the roadside roller brake test.

In June 2004, the LTSA released a draft of the Heavy Vehicle Brake Rule, which aims to reduce the number of truck crashes caused by brake defects by improving testing procedures and requiring the use of advanced technology. The new rule contains a number of important provisions, including:

  • Certificate of Fitness inspections to test the brakes of heavy vehicles that are laden or carrying a simulated load. At present, these brakes are tested when the vehicles are unladen.
  • Updated, more specific performance requirements for the brakes of all heavy vehicles first registered or modified in New Zealand after 1 May 2006 that are used in combination (for example, a truck towing a trailer). To meet the requirement, such truck-trailer combinations are likely to have to be fitted with load-sensing valves or anti-lock braking systems.9

The LTSA plans to carry out a national heavy vehicle brake survey as part of its 2004-05 work programme. This will give a more complete picture of the standard of heavy vehicle brakes throughout the country. It should also allow identification of parts of the country with greater compliance problems.

The Police have now prepared a business case to employ 5 more vehicle safety officers based in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch. These officers will have enforcement powers, and 4 will be equipped with roller brake testing equipment to allow for random and targeted roadside testing. The equipment will be on a trailer, towed by a van, which will allow the officers to conduct accurate brake tests at any location.

Our findings

LTSA surveys indicate that the standard of heavy vehicle brakes throughout the country is poor. This was known at the time of the 1996 inquiry, and it appears that little has changed since then, despite the Committee’s recommendation that improving truck brakes should be given urgency.

Making improvements to truck braking requires an integrated approach which includes improvements to Certificate of Fitness brake testing, the proposed Brake Rule, and use of the LTSA “Categorisation of Defects” guideline. It is also the Police view (a view we agree with) that significant enforcement action is now required. Their case for more vehicle safety officers and braketest equipment makes sense, but needs to be considered as part of an integrated package of measures. Brake testing must be credible if it is to be effective, particularly as overseas studies have highlighted the errors that can occur if brake-testing equipment is used incorrectly.

Fatigue management

The Committee made several recommendations about how to reduce truck driver fatigue. Specifically, it recommended simplifying the laws relating to the number of hours that truck drivers can work, and that the LTSA consider allowing onboard computers as a substitute for logbooks. The LTSA has now approved 2 types of electronic logbook for truck driver use, but the uptake of such systems has so far been limited.

The Land Transport Amendment Bill, introduced in June 2004, aims to simplify the driving hours and logbook system, introduces a simpler definition of work time, and makes a number of changes to the penalties for breaches of the logbook rules and other record-keeping offences. The Bill also introduces a new “chain of responsibility offence” to ensure that employers and other industry participants are held accountable if they knowingly allow or cause breaches of the driving-hour rules.

Specific research has also been done on truck driver fatigue. In 2003, a study by the Sleep/Wake Research Centre of Massey University (funded by the Road Safety Trust)10 piloted a new method for investigating the role of fatigue in truck crashes. The study estimated that fatigue was involved in up to 17.6% of all truck crashes on New Zealand roads. The study also found that truck crash reports could be underestimating the role of driver fatigue by a factor of between 1.7 and 3.5, which means that between 41% and 71% of fatigue-related truck crashes are not identified as such.

The report of the Sleep/Wake Research Centre recommended that 4 questions be added to the CVIU crash report form11 to improve fatigue assessment in all crashes, and the CVIU has done so. Researchers from the Centre have also visited CVIU staff to provide additional fatigue-related training.

8: Traffic Engineering Research New Zealand.

9: Load-sensing valves automatically apportion the braking effort of heavy vehicles according to the mass of the load being carried by each axle set. Anti-lock braking systems reduce the brake force on a wheel if it starts to lock up, so that directional control is maintained.

10: The Road Safety Trust is a Crown entity which funds research, community safety initiatives, and training that will improve road safety.

11: The CVIU complete this form after attending a truck or bus crash.

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