Transport industry leaders have repeatedly raised concerns that the system for certifying warrants of fitness and driver licences is flawed.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford and the Transport Agency announced on Monday they could not be sure that all the cars on our roads meet safety standards, after discovering some companies that certify vehicles and transport operators did not comply with the agency’s standards.
The certification process affects everything from companies issuing warrants of fitness to people who operate passenger services.
There are currently 850 “open compliance files” relating to the certification of businesses that have raised concern, some dating back years.
NZTA said there was no way of knowing how many vehicles were affected. One “open file” could refer to a local garage, which certifies a small number of vehicles, or a large company which deals with hundreds.
Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website dogandlemon.com told Newsroom the spate of heavy vehicle accidents could be blamed on NZTA’s poor performance under the previous government.
“The recent fatal accidents involving buses are highly likely to be the direct result of the previous government’s reluctance to enforce vehicle safety regulations,” he said.
He said that government viewed regulations “as an unnecessary waste of money or an obstruction to business”.
“[It] actually proposed to allow trucking companies to issue their own safety certificates. That would have meant 40-tonne trucks roaring down the road without any independent inspection at all,” he said.
Ken Shirley of the Road Transport Forum said he had been concerned “for a good number of years”.
“A number of failures have been exposed in NZTA’s compliance regime in recent times and each one of those results in a loss of confidence from road transport operators and the general public in the agency’s ability to carry out its core functions,” he said.
Companies issuing divers licences and operators of transport services will also have their certifications looked at.
The 850 files will be reviewed by law firm Meredith Connell. Companies found not to be compliant will lose their certification, meaning they will no longer be able to operate. It has prioritised 152 files requiring “urgent legal or investigative review”, which it hopes to complete by November.
Twyford expressed his “extreme disappointment” at NZTA, which he said had not fulfilled its role as regulator.
He blamed the issue on “process failures and under-resourcing over the past decade”.
The agency had taken an “education and trust” approach to its role as regulator, offering encouragement and support to those it certified, but rarely clamped down on those who failed to adhere to standards.
“There was an emphasis on education rather than enforcement.”
Twyford said this meant the companies being certified often “drove the agenda” rather than NZTA as the regulator.
NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie agreed the agency had a flawed approach.
“For many years, the NZTA has operated a high-trust, devolved regulatory regime, working with a network of qualified professionals to carry out services and focusing on ongoing education to address issues,” Gammie said.
“It is clear that our approach has not been sufficiently robust to categorically ensure the highest levels of regulatory compliance. The agency has been too reliant on self-regulation and has not devoted enough attention to resource or to ensuring compliance,” he said.
Issues raised in the review related to steps taken when reviewing vehicles, inaccurate logs being kept for drivers and non-adherence to maximum weights.