Police spot checks of commercial vehicles have dropped by more than 13,000 over the past three years, despite rapid growth in road transport.
During the same period the total number of licensed commercial vehicles in New Zealand rose by almost 6000 to 179,157, with heavy trucks and buses accounting for much of the increase.
The police inspection records were released in response to a Stuff Official Information Act request filed after a spate of serious bus crashes, including one on Mt Ruapehu which killed 11-year-old Hannah Francis, and another in the Manawatū which injured 19.
The data shows Police did 52,474 commercial vehicle inspections for the 12 months to June 2016, just under 48,000 the following year, and 39,289 last financial year
Stuff also asked whether checks were being done off main highways on rural roads and in national parks, but police declined to provide this information on the grounds that it would be too time consuming to collate.
Acting manager of the police commercial vehicle safety team Mike McRandle said the drop in inspections was due in part to lack of staff, but that had been remedied.
The team had also changed its approach to enforcement with a stronger focus on prevention, and on the quality rather than the quantity of roadside checks.
“If we notice during inspections there seem to be recurring issues with the same company, we’ll go and meet with them and talk about the issues and what they can do resolve them and prevent any other issues with their fleet.”
McRandle said this worked well and feedback from transport operators was positive, a claim echoed by Police Minister Stuart Nash.
He pointed out there had been a 14 per cent increase in funding for dedicated road policing, and he said the raw numbers of commercial vehicle inspections did not tell the full story.
“Even at the low point in 2017, Police were carrying out more than 100 commercial vehicle inspections a day. Targeted enforcement and prevention is also a valid approach.”
However, the cut back in inspections has surprised union and transport industry representatives in light of issues around maintenance standards, driver shortages, working hours, and overloading.
First Union transport division spokesman Jared Abbott said the truck driver shortage resulted in drivers working longer hours that at times breached legal limits.
“And we know from members in the concrete industry that they are being pressured to drive with overweight vehicles because of the shortage of drivers.”
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Road Transport Association chief executive Dennis Robertson said he was surprised at the pull back because the amount of freight carried by road was growing with almost 90,000 heavy trucks licensed at the end of June.
“From our point of view we want a level playing field and inspections are good because they keep everyone honest.”
He said a new Weigh Right programme to identify overloaded vehicles, could make enforcement fairer and more efficient.
Sensors in the road will weigh and record the speed of vehicles as they pass, and illuminated signs will direct those deemed overloaded into a roadside weigh station.
Robertson said the system would help change the behaviour of operators who deliberately overloaded their vehicles, giving them an advantage over those who stuck to the rules.
A dozen weigh stations spread throughout the country are due for completion by 2020.