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Safeguard Magazine

Looking upstream

PETER GALLAGHER proposes three upstream measures to address the rising death toll from truck crashes on New Zealand roads.

The headline late last month read “Secret video appears to show trucking boss telling driver to falsify logbook.”

The next day, in a different case, the media reported the sentencing of a truck driver whose vehicle smashed into a woman’s car near Awakino, killing her. His condition immediately prior to the accident was described in court as “either falling asleep or badly distracted when he began drifting across the line while on a moderate bend.”

And in a third case, a 71-year-old truck driver has recently been sentenced for the killing of two young children on the Desert Road on 30 March 2018, when his truck and trailer smashed into a car in front which had come to a halt in a line of traffic. He has admitted failing to take the required rest breaks on 27, 29 and 30 March, and falsifying a logbook on 30 March.

After the hearing, a police senior sergeant observed that fatigue is a big factor in a lot of crashes, especially in the central North Island.


In private conversations, senior police staff have acknowledged to me that companies can put pressure on owner-drivers to take loads and accept contracts in order to pay their bills, and as time goes by the drivers are increasingly squeezed.

They also acknowledge that the increasing rate of truck crashes is linked to factors such as low wages, excessive work hours, failure to take rest breaks, and contractors’ powerlessness within their contracts.

It has also been acknowledged that police are not resourced to take their crash investigations “beyond the roadside” to examine potential causes up the chain.


The rate of deaths in truck crashes between 2013 and 2018 has exploded from 45 to 77, a statistic described by First Union as the equivalent of two Pike River tragedies every year.

In the March/April edition of this magazine, the editor wrote, “Trucking in this country appears to be a broken business model … Trouble is, it’s not just some accounting deficit that is at stake – it’s people, thousands of them, and they are bearing the brunt of illness and anxiety as they put their lives on the line every day trying to work all the hours possible to make a viable living.”

Why have informed voices such as these have been consistently ignored?

Transport operators and their industry lobbyists claim to have clean hands and an authentic prioritisation of safe practices for their workers, be they contractors or salaried. However, the rising death rate speaks for itself.


What is the solution? Hire good people, train them well, treat them well, pay them well, respect them as being vital to the success of your business, and at all times prioritise their safety over profit.

Sounds easy, but it’s just not happening often enough. Therefore, alternatively and urgently, ProDrive proposes three measures that will go a long way to reducing the transport industry’s increasing carnage.

First, guarantee full resourcing to WorkSafe and Police to ensure they are able to “go beyond the roadside” in all fatal truck-related crashes, so they can investigate potential root causes upstream inside corporate management systems and practices, particularly at despatch or operations management level.

Second, use legislation to address the vulnerabilities felt by independent contractors, which can give rise to tragic outcomes. (This is presently under review by the Government.)

Third, introduce a Transport Tribunal to enable affordable access to justice for those contract drivers who need it but can’t afford expensive lawyers. A Tribunal could be structured in a similar manner to the Employment Relations Authority, where redress can be sought via affordable lawyer or non-lawyer advocacy representation before (industry specific) referees or adjudicators.


New Zealand citizens must wake up to how lethal transport workplaces (also known as roads) have become. They are far and away the most dangerous workplaces across all industry in the country.

She’ll be right simply won’t cut it any longer. This fatal curse can be solved, but it requires the regulators to act, with the full backing of the public’s national resolve.

PETER GALLAGHER is CEO of professional driver advocacy organisation ProDrive.

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