30 Nov 2018

'Close call' over truck safety with suspended certifier

11:54 am on 30 November 2018

The Transport Agency's own top staff talked about having had "another close call" over truck safety, newly released emails show.

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Photo: RNZ / Supplied

One manager told two others about this in early February 2018, regarding a truck certifier caught out over unsafe work.

The certifier, Peter Wastney of Nelson, quit within days of the emails, released to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

He had been under investigation and suspended, since a trailer he had certified in 2016 broke off a truck near Murchison in August 2017.

By February, the investigation had unearthed other deficiencies in certifications.

"On the face of it - this has been another close call," agency manager of vehicle standards Brian Sara emailed three other managers.

But as far back as September 2017, the agency's sole auditor of the heavy vehicle certifiers, John Long, described Mr Wastney's file on the truck that failed, as "pathetic ... with virtually nothing to support the certifications!"

The trailer's automatic brakes also failed, and it carried on for 70m before hitting a bank.

In February 2018, a driver near Nelson spotted a large crack in the towbar of a truck that the day before had been carting 25 tonnes of rocks on the winding Whangamoa Saddle on State Highway 6.

That prompted the Transport Agency's regulatory compliance manager Dave Whiteridge to email his other managers agreeing that they needed to take "urgent action in relation to all Wastney's work".

"The fact that rapid failure was imminent in relation to this drawbar, plus our existing concerns about most (if not all) of his other files, means there could be some extremely unsafe vehicles in operation right now with the potential" to cause death and serious injury to other motorists.

However, the emails show the agency had at this stage still not looked at Mr Wastney's previous work, and was still debating what public safety measures to take.

"Whether this last issue [the February crack] is cause to revoke and recall will need to be discussed and agreed," emailed Craig Basher, manager of Operational Standards.

"I understand that a list of all certifications completed by Wastney for the last 10 years is currently being compiled and this will indicate the potential size of the problem and our immediate actions moving forward."

A few days later it issued safety alerts within the industry, and a few days after this RNZ was alerted and reported on it.

Months and millions of dollars have now been spent recertifying more than 1400 trucks and buses Mr Wastney designed or inspected.

Read the email documents released under Official Information Act here:

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