Editorial: Security risks on the road

Last updated 05:00 06/05/2014

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OPINION: It's one thing to roll our eyes at the hoary old expression "it fell off the back of a truck".

Trouble is, lately far too much has been falling off trucks. And that's not a euphemism for people nicking things.

The consequences of dangerous items flying through the air from insecure loads have in recent times been horrible. The most recent case on Saturday was mercifully more scare than sorrow, though it still made for a squirm-inducing story.

A 4kg chunk of steel shot off the back of a large truck and trailer unit on the Lower Shotover Bridge, flipping on its travels before shattering the windscreen of Cromwell man Casey Booth. It came so close to killing him and his first-date passenger that he was left with a grazed finger and glass in his teeth.

Bad enough if such perils were a great rarity. But they aren't.

We still don't know what the object was that smashed through farm worker Rutger Telford Hale's windscreen on the Lake Hawea-Albert Town Rd in October, but tests on the fragments found a type of stainless steel used in anything from vehicle parts to tools and cookware.

Up Nelson way, a truck spilled its load of timber into the front yard of a Wakefield home last month. The place was left looking like a bomb site. It was just blind luck that the children who would usually play there had been elsewhere, sheltering from the rain.

Not so lucky was the elderly couple killed at Motunui after a Palmerston North driver had had the genius idea of loading some pipes inside other pipes. Apparently nothing in that little exercise screamed out "gun barrel" to him.

The resulting court case in February was replete with lessons unlearned. The driver, a 25-year veteran with heavy transport work, had received no training or instruction on safety measures relating to loads such as this.

Justice Toogood noted that the driver was the only person prosecuted, though the employer shared legal and practical responsibility for ensuring the load was secure.

The Motunui investigation also came up with expert evidence that the New Zealand truck loading code was difficult both to understand and to implement.

The case for it to be updated is mounting. But there's a wider problem as well because in so many cases the problem with insecure loads has less to do with professionals being confounded by the rules, than with arch laziness and carelessness, be it from professionals or householders heading for the tip.

And that's an issue that cries out for one of those nifty combinations of public education and attention-getting enforcement.

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Though it's natural that most concern about projectiles leaving trailers and trucks, we needn't disregard the damage done by what may be seen as more benign droppings.

Marlborough ratepayers have forked out more than $9000 in less than two months to cleanup grape spills on the roads. From this distance we might smile at the thought, and consider a joke incorporating this scenario and the origins of our least-favourite wine ... but the real-world result of that squishy unpleasantness is a hazardous, slippery surface for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

- The Southland Times

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