Jobs and safety risked in proposed changes

Timaru mechanic Alister Day checks the underside of a car.
Timaru mechanic Alister Day checks the underside of a car.

Proposed changes to the vehicle licensing system could mean the loss of up to 2000 jobs and reduced oversight of the safety of trucks on New Zealand’s roads.

A Government decision on possible changes to the private car Warrant of Fitness [WoF] and commercial vehicle Certificate of Fitness [CoF] regimes was expected to be made public in the next two months.

Options include lengthening the amount of time between compulsory fitness checks and, importantly for commercial vehicles and heavy trucks, opening up the accreditation process for CoF inspections to anyone.

Currently CoF’s can only be issued by Vehicle Testing New Zealand [VTNZ], Vehicle Inspection New Zealand [VINZ] and the Automobile Association [AA], none of which were permitted to also provide repair services.

Chief executive of VTNZ Mike Walsh said the three inspection companies’ independence was a core principle of the commercial road safety regime and helped to protect inspectors from commercial pressures.

Inspectors that were either on the payroll of the trucking company they’re inspecting, or were only interested in declining CoF licences in order to inflate subsequent repair bills, could flourish under the new rules.

Walsh said abolishing the prohibition on inspectors doubling as repairers would mean VTNZ would have to cut jobs, locations and services.

According to the Ministry of Transport as many as 2000 people could lose employment with the changes to both WoF and CoF rules.

The Ministry’s discussion paper acknowledged the risks, saying the inspection industry would ‘‘need to adjust to this decreased demand’’ by way of ‘‘rationalisation of sites, merger of businesses, staff lay-offs or offering other services to customers to offset lost revenues’’.

"It’s easy to dismiss our comments as self-interest or even scaremongering,’’ said Walsh, whose company carries out 86 per cent of all heavy vehicle safety inspections each year.

‘‘But VTNZ was appointed by the NZ Transport Agency to provide a nationwide service that ensures trucks are safe.’’

Safety could be compromised by in-house or contracted inspectors who felt pressure from their bosses to get trucks back out on the road and earning money.

An auditing and compliance programme had been suggested as an answer to the problem, but Walsh said the cost of such a programme had not been factored into the government’s calculations.

"We know only too well what happens without proper audit and compliance in self-regulated industries, [just] ask anyone with a leaky home,’’ he said.

"Commercial vehicle inspections are a lot tougher than a car WoF and cover structural elements, towing connections and certification. Brakes are also tested under loads that simulate driving conditions.

"These big, heavy rigs can do far more damage to the occupants or others on the road if the steering or brakes fail, than a regular family car.’’