Coroner urges review of trucking code

A coroner is calling for a high-priority review of the trucking code after the deaths of Urenui couple Ern and Nancy Sutton.

The Suttons, aged 83, died of multiple injuries when a 25.2 tonne load of steel pipes rolled off the back of a truck on May 28, 2012, on State Highway 3 at Motunui north of Waitara, and struck their car, coroner Tim Scott said in his findings released yesterday.

He said the reason the load spilled was the lack of restraints and poor loading of the pipes.

In February the Palmerston North truckdriver, Henry Anthony Tawhai, in his 50s, was found guilty of criminal nuisance in the High Court in New Plymouth and sentenced to community work. The original charges of manslaughter and drugged-driving were dropped.

In yesterday's ruling, Scott declined to make firm recommendations on the trucking code because he was not an expert.

Instead he made "helpful suggestions only in the hope that people who have the ability to make changes - in particular New Zealand Transport Agency and various trucking organisations - may take them on board and apply them".

Scott called for a revision of the Truck Loading Code to be given significant priority and for it to be simplified and include diagrams.

The practice of "nesting" smaller diameter pipes within larger diameter pipes should stop, Scott said.

He also suggested that examination of load restraints should not be left solely up to drivers and there should be a policy of regular inspection by a senior person within a trucking organisation.

Drivers should be instructed to approach a supervisor if in doubt and a workplace culture must be developed whereby no-one feels unable to do this, Scott said.

Tawhai was an experienced truckdriver transporting heavy steel pipes for the first time.

He arrived at Pipes New Zealand at Bell Block where two employees, Phillip Shewry and Barry Watson, helped him load the pipes, which were headed to Auckland.

The Serious Crash Unit investigation found the maximum possible load restraint on the load was 30,400 kilograms, well under the two-times rule. At least nine chains should have been placed on the load.

"To an extent the facts speak for themselves because the two front chains restraining the load broke while Mr Tawhai was going around a moderate bend very shortly after he left Pipes New Zealand."

The coroner said he found it "extremely surprising and worrying" that Tawhai's supervisor lacked exact restraint knowledge and expected the drivers to check for wear.

"Checking is far too significant to be left [solely] up to the drivers," he said.

Scott found Tawhai was probably not significantly impaired by cannabis.

It was pleasing that he had never failed his employer's random drug and alcohol checks, the coroner said.

Taranaki Daily News