12 Aug 2021

Police and IPCA disagree over tow truck safety issue

6:40 pm on 12 August 2021

Police have disagreed with the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) about the threat to public safety from tow trucks on Auckland motorways.

Afternoon rush hour traffic out of central Auckland.

Photo: 123rf.com

The IPCA says there was a safety risk in tow trucks that were too small, being used on particularly heavy jobs.

Its investigation faulted police for not checking what a tow truck consortium it had a contract with for eight years, was doing.

"The consortium has not had sufficient vehicles with the necessary towing capacity, and have therefore been able to fulfil the terms of the contract only by using unsafe and non-compliant vehicles," it said.

But the police pushed back.

"We disagree with that," Assistant Commissioner, deployment and road policing, Bruce O'Brien said in an interview with RNZ.

It is not about vehicles, plural, but "there's one particular vehicle that the IPCA has focused on", he said.

This was a tow truck where there was disagreement if it was allowed to tow up to 35 tonnes, or 65 tonnes. Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency had approved the higher rating, and police now had an engineer checking this.

The risk to public safety was "unknown", O'Brien said.

"These vehicles that are part of these contracts do have their annual Certificate of Fitness [COF] which provides that level of safety.

"So it would be really hard for me to say if there was a risk to public safety.

"This was more about the poor handling of our contracts, and we acknowledge that."

O'Brien repeated that the COFs - which are six-monthly, not annual - provided a safety check.

However, an industry operator who requested anonymity, questions this.

"If the police are using the fact that the vehicle has a COF to say the towing fittings and crane on the vehicle is compliant, then that is not correct," they told RNZ.

The COF checks expressly did not cover towing gear, which was treated the same as truck-mounted cranes, which Waka Kotahi said inspectors did not need to check.

"We will look at the bolts. We will look at the certificates," the operator said.

"But we do not look into how it is working or how it is put together. We are not qualified to do that."

The operator described the regulation of tow trucks as "a very messy situation".

Assistant Commissioner O'Brien said they had remedied the poor handling of the tow truck contract, and checked this was not happening in other parts of the country.

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