Scrapping New Zealand’s Vehicle Safety Officers dangerous and short-sighted

NZPA | Wed March 22nd, 2017

The Police Association is deeply concerned that the jobs of the country’s 26 Vehicle Safety Officers (VSOs) are to be axed at a time when New Zealand’s road toll is unacceptably high, and climbing.

Police last year announced that 111 road policing staff (which includes VSOs) were to be taken off these duties and absorbed back into general policing with no-one losing their job.

“That is clearly not the case because the 26 VSOs are to be disbanded.  These highly specialised mechanics and engineers who focus on the safety of New Zealand’s heavy duty vehicles are not sworn officers and so cannot be simply absorbed into other policing duties,” Association President Chris Cahill said.

Police say that less than 4% of crashes on our roads involve commercial trucks.  The Association considers it not unreasonable to extrapolate from that that the relatively low figure of commercial vehicle accidents is due to the independence and expertise of the VSOs when conducting inspections.  

“There are tens of thousands of heavy commercial vehicles on New Zealand’s roads at any given time, and, when trucks can travel 100,000s of kms between inspections, an undetected mechanical or structural fault can cause havoc,” Mr Cahill said.

“When trucks or buses are involved in accidents the consequences are usually significant.  It simply doesn’t make sense to downplay the roadworthiness of the likes of massive logging trucks, school and tourist buses, and, don’t forget, the potential catastrophe of an unsafe vehicle is not only for those inside it, but for other road users who may be impacted in any crash.”   

VSOs deal regularly with issues which could cause imminent vehicle failure.  These include the likes of worn universal joints, missing, lose or broken cap bolts, visible cracks in cross members and between drive axles, cracked chassis plates, damaged chassis rails, cracked deck attachments, insufficient tread depth on tyres.

The Association wants to know which independent agency or agencies will now carry out the vital inspections which uncover these faults, and who will be responsible for reporting on the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles involved in crashes.

“Taking staff from road policing when New Zealand’s freight levels are expected to increase 75% over the next 25 years is extremely short sighted,” Mr Cahill said.

 “We also only need to look back at the last Christmas/New Year holiday period open road toll of 15 fatal crashes and 19 deaths to know it is not a time to mess with road safety in any way”, Mr Cahill said.

“Added to that, Police’s own report notes a 16% increase in road crash hospitalisation figures for the last quarter of last year compared to the 2015 figures.  That is the highest result since 2008/09 and while those numbers were fairly consistently represented across most districts, some areas showed substantial increases,” he said.

The report also shows New Zealand has nothing to be proud of when our progress in reducing road deaths is compared with other OECD countries.  We top the scale in (relative) rises in road deaths - increases which are mirrored in the hospitalisation results.

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