30 Mar 2021

Auckland mechanic witnessed 'threat' over truck certification process

7:51 am on 30 March 2021

An Auckland mechanic who witnessed a trucker threaten a heavy vehicle engineer with violence, warns the transport safety system is "at the point of madness".

A truck with a red cab picks up speed.

File image. Photo: 123RF

The mechanic has written a two-page letter to the minister of transport, following on the heels of a mass complaint against the New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi from certifying engineers.

Two truckers in recent days had told him they could not risk going in for a Certificate of Fitness inspection - equivalent to a Warrant of Fitness for a car - because the chance of expensive delays was too great, the mechanic - who RNZ agreed not to name - said.

"It's not [safe]," he said.

"They've gotten that frustrated with the inspection process and systems, with how rigidly they're currently being enforced and how poorly outlined they [standards] are, they'd rather pay a fine than go through the process of doing major repairs on things that are highly unlikely to have any safety risk to them at all.

"Yeah, it's just gotten to a point of madness."

Last week he witnessed the fallout from an especially vexed trucker at a certifying engineer's premises.

"I was there to get a job done. There was another customer there that was highly frustrated and agitated, that it was taking a long time to get things done.

"And he threatened that particular engineer was going to get a hiding.

"He then elaborated to say, perhaps he would do it through official channels, work out a way to get him sanctioned."

The engineer did not hear the threat, but was surprised when told about it, the mechanic said.

"It was absolutely a threat."

The mechanic, who helps run a medium-sized workshop, in his letter catalogued the impacts of what he said was a combination of "excessive sanctions" by NZTA alongside vague standards:

  • An Iveco truck was tested to the wrong brake standard - but easily passed when tested correctly
  • A concrete truck faced a week's lay-up costing $4200 because a nervous inspector balked at passing a repair with bolts (instead of rivets) that had been standard for the last two decades
  • Numerous times flaking paint or surface rust had been failed by an inspector, forcing a trucker to seek an LT400 sign-off from a certifying engineer, where the delays are typically a week, but up to 2-3 months

Workshops and certifiers were getting clogged, and costs were rising.

"The industry is being punished as a result of the regulator not doing their job for an extended period, and not knowing how to fix it," he wrote in the letter.

Only the agency could fix this, or mechanics and vehicle inspectors would follow certifying engineers out the door by quitting.

"Who wants to work under the constant threat of losing your livelihood over a small, inconsequential mistake?

"Waka Kotahi has missed the improvement stage ... and jumped straight to punish [sic]."

Transport Minister Michael Wood said he urge all drivers to be safe, follow the rules and make sure their WoF/CoF is current.

"I understand that the industry is in an adjustment period and getting used to a more active regulator," he said.

"My expectation is Waka Kotahi will work closely with the industry to address any concerns."

Crane assessor had enough

Tauranga veteran truck operator-turned-driver-assessor John Remus has quit, having had enough.

He used to assess mostly crane drivers, but not anymore.

"I've cancelled all that now. It's just too difficult," Remus said.

"There's just too many pieces of paper involved in it, from what there used to be."

One or two forms had proliferated into five or six, focused more on theory than on practical skill.

"You know, sometimes you look at a guy and think, 'Yeah, where did he ever get his license from?'.

"There should be a lot more practical involved in it, than what there is theory, but it's the other way around."

The NZTA auditor covering this and other assessments in Tauranga was very fair, "but he doesn't make the rules unfortunately", Remus said.

It was not all downside, however.

"Some of the trucks and vehicles that were on the road two years ago was absolute junk, and should never have been on the road.

"But I think we've flipped the other way, we've just got too hard."

Inspectors and certifying engineers were caught between the agency and the industry, he said.

"I feel sorry for them."

Warning of dire consequences

The Auckland mechanic told RNZ the consequences would be dire.

"If you are too heavy on the industry, you'll find more people that decide not to do COFs ... more people running without roadworthy vehicles, less people to do the inspections, which means it'll be a higher workload ... more stuff will get missed or stuff won't get done."

His letter also went to the National Party and to Waka Kotahi; "based on their track record", he expected his warning would be ignored, he said.

He urged other mechanics to speak up as a group, like certifiers had done.

Asked about the letter, Waka Kotahi said its aim was improving public safety, that it was crucial to maintain high standards of certification across the industry and that its regulatory work was based on evidence.

"Waka Kotahi ... is aware of the pressures on the heavy vehicle specialist certification industry and that it is a difficult time, and is engaging with the industry to work on solutions to these pressures," it said in a statement.

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