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. We assisted with the Committee’s 1996 report, and later indicated our intention to undertake a follow-up audit of progress in implementing the Committee’s recommendations.

The Committee’s report made 67 recommendations to improve truck safety, and said that 7 should be implemented immediately. Five of the 7 recommendations were the responsibility of the Police, and one each the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport (the Ministry), and the Department of Labour.

Our follow-up audit found that 5 of the 7 recommendations were implemented in a timely manner and 2 were not, although substantial progress has now been made. Those 2 recommendations were that:

  • the Police should take immediate action to reduce truck speeds to their legal limits; and
  • the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 should be applied immediately to the trucking industry.

Truck speed limits

In 1996, the Committee concluded that truck speed limits had not been enforced effectively. It said that truck speeds must be reduced to their legal limits, and recommended that the Police give priority to enforcing them. In our view, the Police did not give the matter the priority recommended by the Committee. Very few speeding offence notices were issued, and truck speeds did not begin to fall until the Highway Patrol Unit was formed 4 years after the Committee’s report was released.

Before May 2004, different types of trucks had different speed limits, and this complicated enforcement. Truck speeds were standardised in May 2004, and this has simplified enforcement, although it is too early to assess the results of the change. In recent times, the Police have been more active in enforcing truck speeds, and mean truck speeds are now below the legal speed limit.

Workplace safety

The Committee also concluded that the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (the Act) could be more effectively enforced in the trucking industry if police were appointed as inspectors under the Act. The Committee described examples of employees working on the rear decks of moving trucks, and delivery schedules that required drivers to travel at excessive speeds and work excessive hours. It considered these to be harmful employment practices that came within the ambit of the Act.

The Department of Labour told us that concerns about accountability delayed any action until November 2003, when it finally agreed that police could be appointed safety inspectors under the Act. Eighty police staff are now qualified to be appointed inspectors, and 71 have received their warrants. This means that police can now take the enforcement action recommended by the Committee.

Other issues

Our audit also followed up on the action taken on some of the Committee’s other recommendations, and we report on those. We were disappointed at how slowly some of those recommendations were acted upon.

The encouraging news is that the number of fatal truck crashes is declining. In our view, this can be attributed to the range of safety initiatives taken by government agencies and the trucking industry. However, truck travel is increasing, and continued attention will need to be paid to truck safety.

One area still causing concern is heavy vehicle brakes. In April 2003, a Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA)1 survey of heavy vehicle brakes found that 65% of heavy vehicles failed the minimum brake performance requirements. We believe that significant enforcement action is now required to improve heavy vehicle brakes.

Our recommendations

After the Committee’s 1996 report, the Ministry provided the Committee with updates in 1997, 2000 and 2001 on progress in implementing its recommendations. These updates stopped in September 2001.

We have 2 recommendations from our follow-up audit:

  1. We recommend that the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee ask the Ministry of Transport to resume its regular progress reports, and that the reports cover:
    • trends in fatal truck crashes;
    • trends in mean speeds of all truck types, by police district;
    • police enforcement data on truck speeds, by police district;
    • progress in applying the Health and Safety in Employment Act to transport operations;
    • trends in the number of truck rollover crashes;
    • progress with the operator safety rating system (OSRS); and
    • the results of truck brake enforcement and testing.
  2. For completeness, we recommend that the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee ask the Ministry of Transport to report on the action taken to implement the other 60 recommendations from the 1996 Transport Committee report.

1: Now Land Transport New Zealand, since the merger of LTSA and Transfund New Zealand on 1 December 2004.

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